13 January 2013

Zambia: Yichida Ndlovu - Zambia's First Female Non-Military Pilot

IMAGINE the anxiety of sitting in the cabin of an airplane, listening to the voice of a woman introducing herself as your pilot and requesting you to buckle up as the aircraft prepares to take off.

What would run through your mind? Would you start considering whether men make better pilots than women, whether you would be safe on this particular flight or not?

These are some of the fears that Yichida Ndlovu, Zambia's first non-military pilot had to deal with.

She did her junior secondary school from 1972 to 1974.

She completed her secondary education at Ibenga Girls in 1976.

Initially, after completing her secondary school education, she was admitted to the School of Natural Sciences (NS) at the University of Zambia (UNZA) in 1977.

Soon after school, she underwent six month training at the Zambia National Service (ZNS) youth training programme, before being admitted to UNZA.

Her first employment as a pilot was in 1981 to 1991 when she worked for Roan Air, before joining the Government.

Undoubtedly, she was among the first female students to venture into the science field at the time. Her dream career at the time of completing secondary school education was to study medicine.

At the time of her admission to UNZA, she had also qualified for a Government scholarship to pursue engineering studies in Russia.

However, her dream to pursue studies in medicine came to a brief halt while she was still at Lwitikila Girls school.

"Although I wanted to pursue medicine, I realised early enough from my days at school that the hospital was a no-go area for me. I was disqualified from ever pursuing medicine because I was too scared of blood.

"I could not even stand the sight of simple scientific experiments such as dissecting of a frog!" she said.

Although the hospital was a no-go area for her despite the science subjects being very appealing to her, she soon realised that she could still pursue a career in line with the sciences, without necessarily going into medicine.

Straight away, engineering seemed like a good alternative for her.

But was it?

"I found life at UNZA totally not conducive for me. The then dean of students asked me to talk to someone who had just returned from Russia.

"At the time, I had already heard a lot of stories about how African students were subjected to all kinds of mistreatment.

"But all the same, I still knew that every fibre in me wanted to pursue something in line with my much loved science subjects."

It was while she was still in limbo of decision making that along came a media advertisement, leading her to her God ordained career of aviation.

"I saw an advertisement in one of the local newspapers, calling for people interested in civil aviation to apply to the Zambia Air Services Training Institute (ZASTI) for interviews.

"When I told my father about it, he answered me using an old bemba adage 'chimbwi afwile intangalala', literally meaning wanting to eat with both hands, never took the hyena anywhere.

This was her father's response to her pending acceptance to study engineering in Russia.

"Having lived in Ndola's Skyways Township as a child had an effect on my interests in aviation.I just did not know how I would be able to satisfy my quench for flying.

"The media advertisement just offered a perfect fit. I did not even look back or even think twice. I seized the opportunity and decided I would go for the interviews."

When she eventually got to ZASTI for the student interviews, she was the only female candidate. Some of her counterparts even began mocking her saying 'do you realise there are no secretarial studies here'.

But Yichida was determined not to let any form of intimidations or chauvinistic remarks weigh her down.

She stood firm with her decision to attend the interviews and convinced herself that the only factor that would disqualify her would be if she failed the interview itself.

After having attended the interviews at ZASTI, she also applied to the Zambia Air Force (ZAF), to train as a military pilot, but she did not receive an affirmative response.

After getting the long awaited response from ZASTI, some of the male folks were not pleased to have Yichida as there counterpart, but this did not stop her because she had determination and family support as the pillars of strength she needed to forge ahead.

The intimidation did not end at the point of the interviews.

She also encountered some harsh remarks from some of her male colleagues who would utter remarks suggesting that she was just an overzealous young lady who would not make it to the end of her studies.

Although such remarks were hurtful, she remained steadfast and determined to make these males 'eat their own words'.

Time for examinations came around, and out of the initial class of 10 students, two males were eliminated, leaving Yichida still in the game.

This even drew more hatred towards her by most of the males, who were determined to ensure that she fails.

"Whenever I could miss out on anything that the lecturer would mention in class, I would not even dare to ask any of my male counterparts because I knew that their response would only be bent on dampening my spirits."

The fact that she could not get any help from her course mates meant she needed to put in extra efforts to ensure that she did not lag behind.

Perseverance and determination were the only tools she adopted to ensure that she broke through this male dominated career.

Today, she stands proud as having made history in Zambia, being the first female pilot and she believes that each person has a God appointed assignment to accomplish.

"Whenever I felt that I could not go on, I fell back on my biblical teachings which suggest that no one can take away from my blessings that are mine," she says.

Yichida now works for the Ministry of Communications, Transport, Works and Supply, where she has currently been seconded to the Zambia Flying Doctor Service in Ndola.

She is married to a medical doctor, Enock Ndlovu, and the couple is blessed with three children.

This experience is somewhat similar to the story of Nina Tapula, who has also encountered similar challenges in her journey of becoming Zambia's first female jet fighter (military aircraft) pilot.

Now holding the rank of major in ZAF, Nina joined the military as a cadet officer at Livingstone's ZAF base in 1993 upon completion of her secondary school education, .

Today, she is proudly addressed as a captain, when she gets in the cockpit.

Like Yichida, Nina is of the view that society still views a career in aviation as a man's job.

"It's still a man's world. There are still a few hitches we need to overcome. But with me, things are a little bit different, because my male colleagues are very supportive, and sometimes, when I am around them, I tend to forget that I'm a little bit different," Major Tapula says.

She urges women aspiring for careers that are seemingly male dominated to remain focused, and persevere to succeed.

The duo have paved the way and proved society and critics that certain careers can only be limited to the male folk.

The time is now for women who feel inspired to venture into careers such as these to ensure that they stop at nothing, and persevere to achieve their goals.

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