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WEI Champion Spotlight: Ashaba Faridah

June 8, 2019 By WEI Editorial - Angela Yang Advocacy, Education, Health, Mentoring

How did you get introduced to the idea of becoming a pilot?

Before I pursued a diploma in flight operations and management, I didn’t even know we had pilot training in Uganda. Choosing a career as a pilot is not very common, so despite having dreamed of flying in planes as a child, I didn’t think it was one that would come true. However, while I was still in school I attended an orientation where I was able to go and see people actually flying. This one plane came and landed, and out walked a woman! Seeing her felt so empowering that it reignited my love for flying, and afterwards I knew I had to do everything I could to be a pilot. 

Can you tell me about your first time in the air?

I had two wildly different “first times” up in the air, once as a passenger and the second as a pilot.

 If you are in flight school, part of the curriculum is that you have to fly up as a passenger, which is a really uncomfortable experience. The plane is quite small, and it’s not pressurized either. I remember when I was still on the ground my classmates were telling me that I was definitely going to puke. I was thinking “I’m tough, there’s no way that will happen to me.” Once I stepped in, we began a circuit exercise called “touch and go” where the plane takes off into the air, comes down again to slightly touch the runway, and goes back up over and over. After about 2 landings I knew I was definitely going to puke. Fortunately, I think the instructor noticed and brought the plane to a stop before I did. When I got out I acted like everything was all good. Like I said, I’m tough.

Now, my first time up in the air as a pilot was entirely the opposite. It was thrilling – I loved the freedom, the control, and the brand new perspective I suddenly had of the world.

What is it like being one of the few women in an already uncommon field?

In Uganda there are really only about 6 women working in the field, and if you add the women that are still in training we still only number between 10 and 15. I’m not the only woman per se, but we are very few. Women are often to be perceived as the weaker sex, so even if you are good at what you do, people never attribute it to your intelligence or talent. They chalk it up to you being favored or given an easier time just because you are a woman. But at the end of the day piloting is practical; either you’re a good pilot or you’re not. I try not to focus on what people say or think, I let my actions speak for me. If I am a good pilot, indeed it will be shown through my work.

Have you had any role models along the way?

On an international level, I’ve had some difficulty finding a role model because I don’t relate as much to experiences that are very different from mine, but I do like Oprah. I think she’s amazing and I like what she’s doing. She’s incredible.

The one role model that I will say I had growing up was my mom. Everything that I know I have learned from trying to be as strong and hardworking as her. She taught me to not just sit around feeling sorry or make excuses for myself. As an entrepreneur, she was the first to show me that a woman is capable of doing anything.

She has always been my greatest inspiration.

How and why did you start the Bambino Life Foundation?

I had always wanted to start something like Bambino because I come from a poor background myself. I didn’t have much, but when I would see kids on the street I’d think “Well, if I’m having a hard time, how about them? They have it worse, they don’t have anywhere to sleep, anything to eat, and some don’t even have parents. I’m lucky enough to have a parent.” As a secondary school (high school) student, I knew no one was going to give me money to help people. But I’ve always wanted to give back, so in truth Bambino began as just me giving my pocket money to beggars on the streets.

After high school I decided I was done waiting for people to help me, so I started with whatever I had, which was basically nothing. I would ask people who were fortunate enough to have extra clothes, shoes, or books and give it to those who weren’t, whether it was an orphanage or street kids. That’s how Bambino Life came into play.

Originally Bambino was meant to be about children, and we have programs advocating for the welfare of children in orphanages as well as for creating awareness about children with learning disabilities. But when I started training to be a pilot, I realized that many girls don’t have the opportunity to learn, whether it’s because they drop out of school, are married off, or get pregnant. I decided to add a new mission: promoting girl’s education and empowerment.

So far it has really been incredible. Many girls drop out of school because they cannot afford simple items like sanitary pads, books, pens, or other materials, so we donate clothes, books, and school supplies and train them to make reusable sanitary pads to keep them in school. I’m proud to say that so far we been able to help 4000 girls.

Check out Bambino Life Foundation here.

What are some issues that affect girls in terms of their education?

What I’ve realized through the outreach that Bambino has been doing into different areas of Uganda is that most girls drop out of school before they have a chance to realize their dreams. The biggest problem, especially in the rural areas, is pregnancy. You have girls getting pregnant as young as 12 and 13 years after being married off even earlier. There’s also the issue of girls not being made priorities in their households, where their parents would rather pay for their brother to go to school than them. The girls are meant to stay at home, do chores, and look after the rest of the family. Another challenge that was actually really surprising to me was girls dropping out of school because they can’t afford sanitary pads. Because of this, some girls resort to staying home the entire time they are on their periods, which makes them fall behind when it comes to classes, and the next thing you know she loses interest and drops out.

What do you think can be done to address the challenges that girls and women face?

I think young girls need role models. And they need relatable role models. What is more inspiring than her standing in front of you and telling you about her journey, compared to seeing her on TV or reading about her in a newspaper? I say this because that’s the same thing that happened to me: I saw this lady flying, and then when I got a chance to talk to her I realized that she’s just an ordinary girl. There’s nothing different between her and me, so I can do exactly what she’s doing. It’s the same for all these young girls. If you put someone who’s already done what they’ve done – whether its someone who went to the same school or even someone from the same country – in front of them they get to hear “Hey, I’ve gone through the same things you have, and look where I am.” I feel like that would encourage them because now they know they have options. They have someone to look at, someone who has made it, and that will help them to ignite their passion whatever they wish to pursue.

For women, there’s a cultural problem where while women are working incredibly hard at their jobs, they also have to fend for their families. This is how they have been raised, to take care of the home and bear children. Even when they do have careers, there’s an expectation that they automatically stop working when they get married, so they can look after the family and be stay at home moms. That is the mentality here, but people are trying to break that norm and encourage women to work more after marriage. There are amazing groups out there that help women to speak for themselves, to fight for their rights, and to go out and work. Both men and the government have tried to be supportive of this movement, which is incredible.

If you could tell one young girl out there who wants to be a pilot, what would you tell her?

What I always want to say to the young girls here in Africa is that you should never forget who you are or where you come from. In Uganda we have a problem where girls are so busy keeping up with appearances that they forget who they actually are. In doing so, they no longer have a clear path forward because they’re so busy trying to please everyone around them and on social media that they lose sight of who they are as a person.

When it comes to speaking specifically about girls who want to become pilots or pursue something similar I would say “Don’t look at what society expects from you, look at what want for yourself.” If you want to be a pilot then you can be a pilot, you are your own limitation. You shouldn’t care what others think, you are capable of doing anything that you set your mind to. So once you do, go for it if this is something that you really want. Because once you are doing something that you truly love, you will always be happy.

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