Flora Ngwinjili has just graduated as the first female pilot in the Malawi Defence Force (MDF). Her journey begins as a presidential hostess from where her dream to fly a plane was conceived. She eventually chased that dream to become a private and commercial aeroplane flyer. She is now geared to fly all over the world, in particular, war-torn countries. CHIKONDI KASAMBARA caught up with Flora to share her story.
Give me your brief background.
I was born Flora Selemani to late Jane Mataka and William Selemani of Traditional Authority Mulumbe in Zomba. I come from a family of five girls where I am the second born. I grew up in Ndirande Township and attended Namalimwe Primary School and then HHI Secondary School. It was not easy growing up in Malabada area of Ndirande thanks to my father who worked tooth and nail to provide for us as well as send us to school. I have been married to Mabvuto Ngwilinji for seven years. We met when he came to supply stationery at our office and found my boss out of the office. We became friends and started courting after a year. We do not have any children, yet, because I was busy with flying courses but now that I have graduated, we will start looking into that. He has been there for my career both financially and provided moral support.
How did you join the military?
I have always wanted to be a journalist, although at times I envied airhostesses. My joining the military, however, was orchestrated by a friend, Vita Gondwe. Soon after, I wrote my Malawi School Certificate of Education ( MSCE) in 1999, the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) advertised that, for the first time, they were going to recruit female soldiers, but I was not interested. I reluctantly applied and succeeded. After the normal military training, I was posted to different departments and I ended up at airwing. I did my cabin attendance course and for nine years, served as a presidential hostess.
How did you end up at the cockpit?
I grew tired of serving in the cabin and wanted something more challenging. I started nursing ambitions to fly the President. That is when I went to the flight training services in South Africa where I obtained a private and commercial licence.
How do you feel as the first female MDF pilot?
While still in the cabin, I was inspired by Felistas Mkandawire the first female pilot in Malawi and Refwile, the first black pilot in South Africa. I feel on top of the world having graduated as the first woman in MDF and to have made the sky my home. I feel indebted to my father for his hard work and encouragement; and to my husband who paid for my flying course- which is really expensive- but he sacrificed to see me pursue my dreams.
What are your expectations?
So far, being a pilot, has been a wonderful experience. I have 900 hours of flying and I fly fixed wings types of aeroplanes such as the Boeing, ATR and Dornier. Currently, I fly a Dornier 228, but I want to fly an airbus in the near future. I have ever flown to the Democratic Republic of Congo for re-supply and I look forward to flying all over the world, especially in war-torn countries. There’s great satisfaction for a soldier to service in battle zones because that is what we are trained for, so, we believe that soldiers never die. They just re-group. God willing, I want to open a flying school right in Malawi.
Any challenges you have encountered?
Every black pilot has a story to tell. It was not easy while I trained in South Africa because I was stigmatised for being black and a woman. I went to school at the time the country was experiencing forex shortage and it really was difficult for me. I struggled to source forex and my school account usually run out of cash, but my husband worked tooth and nail to source forex until I got my commercial license. As a pilot, the most challenging part of flying comes when any instrument fails to function while in flight and during stormy weather. It is nerve-wrecking.
How do you balance work and family?
When in the cockpit I am Flora the pilot. If you get me at home, I am Mrs Ngwilinji, Anagama. My husband understands how involving my job is, therefore, he excuses me most times. The secret is to give all your strength and talent and manage time very well.
What does Flora love to do in her free time?
I value family time, so, I spend my free times with my husband. I also like the company of my friends and enjoy playing netball. I have a collection of aviation books I like to read together with my Bible. I belong to Bills, a grouping of 12 hardworking women striving to be billionaires, so, I am usually with them sharing ideas.
Do you have any words of inspiration to girls and women?
For one to succeed, the desire for success should supersede the fear of failure. Women should never limit themselves because they can be anything they want to be, as so long as they believe in themselves. Most importantly, if you believe in God, always strive for the best. That way, you’ll achieve the best. As women, let us support one another, let us hold hands and let the world know that we can. n