Life Hack

Zimbabwe-born refugee is set to become a commercial pilot

BORN to Burundi parents, raised and educated inside Tongogara Refugee Camp in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, 19-year-old Agnes Niyondezi has broken the ceiling and is set to become a commercial pilot.

Agnes was taken to Canada at the age of 14 in 2016 by a donor, where she is now making waves.

The high-flying teenager was one of more than 200 applicants recently selected to receive a $ 1,000 scholarship from the Royal Canadian Air Force Foundation (RCAF).

The Global News of Canada interviewed Agnes, who says her parents originally escaped a civil war in Burundi, made their way to Tanzania and then ended up in Zimbabwe. They were placed at Tongogara Refugee Camp in Chipinge, where she was born in 2002.

“I was one of those kids that would just stand there and watch [planes] and be amazed about it,” said Agnes. “I was born in a camp, so all my past life has been living in a camp,” Agnes told Global News.

At the age of seven, she would watch planes fly over her home and was intrigued to know how they could fly. From that moment on, she knew she wanted to become a pilot, even though she was stuck inside a refugee camp.

Agnes’ mother died in 2013, so her father took the initiative to get their family sponsored so they could move to Canada for a better and more safe life with opportunities for his children.

Agnes, along with her six siblings and father, moved to Saskatoon, Canada, in December 2016. Once they arrived, she made friends in school and asked them where she could get into a pilot program, and how soon she could possibly get there.

“It was so cold I thought I was going to die! We weren’t used to it,” Agnes joked.

New to the country, let alone the city of Saskatoon, she switched schools to get into an aviation program.

“The program was for grades 11 and 12 and I was in grade 10, but the teacher let me join because I had such a passion for it,” said Agnes.

She recalls making a model airplane as one of their school projects, and then her teacher took her up in the exact aircraft later that semester.

Although she had come to Canada on a plane, this experience seemed different.

“It was scary but it was also exciting. Really exciting. It’s the best feeling being in an airplane.”

Through volunteer work, Agnes is now an employee at the Saskatoon Aviation Museum while attending flight school.

She expects to have her private pilot license by the end of the summer when she completes her final flight exam. Agnes also hopes to get her commercial pilot license by 2023, however, that is not her biggest dream.

“I want to maybe become a captain one day. I would like to maybe be a part of a team that would be building something that is more eco-friendly,” said Agnes. “I would like to get more women in the aviation world, young women like my age or younger. I also want to get Black women into aviation. Ever since I have been in the aviation world, I have not met another Black woman.”

With dreams as big as hers, she still has a hard time processing how much she has already accomplished over the last five years.

“It’s very exciting… I honestly did not think I would come this far from just a child who had a dream in a refugee camp in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, who didn’t know what her future was like. Sometimes I think I’m dreaming and I slap myself like wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”

Although flight school is very costly, Agnes wants to attend an aviation program at Mount Royal University.

After penning a letter to the Royal Canadian Airforce Foundation (RCAF), Agnes was one of 25 others chosen out of over 200 applicants to receive a $1,000 scholarship.

“The way she wrote, it was so personal, it was so emotional, so really those words jumped off the pages for us, so right away we were like yeah, that goes in the pile of very, very good chance of getting one of these 25,” said Jeremy Diamond, RCAF CEO.

The money will be going towards her education to help her achieve her aviation dreams.

Burundi was thrown into a civil war marked by ethnic violence, which included fighting between the Tutsi-dominated army and armed Hutu rebel groups. The fighting caused widespread civilian casualties since the killing of democratically elected president Melchior Ndadaye in October 1993. Over 550,000 citizens, or 9 percent of the population, fled into other countries.

Agnes’ parents were among those refugees. – Global News/

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