By Jenny Clover in KigaliEsther Mbabazi trained to fly Rwandair regional jets despite her father being killed in a plane crash when she was eight
Esther Mbabazi was eight years old when her father was killed in a crash as the plane he was flying in overshot the runway landing in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
So when, a few years later she announced her intention to train as a pilot, the plan was not well received by some of her family. But at the age of 24, Mbabazi has made history as the first female Rwandan pilot – although as a woman she says she doesn't make flight announcements because it scares the passengers.
"Some people questioned why I wanted to do it, they thought I wanted to be a pilot to find out what happened to my dad, but that didn't have anything to do with it," Mbabazi said.
"Being a pilot really was my childhood dream, I don't think anything was going to stop it. It started when I travelled with my family and we would get the free things for kids, like the backpacks. I really liked that and I just liked to travel. The whole intrigue of this big bird in the sky, I was amazed. That and the free backpacks planted the seed."
Mbabazi, who is fluent in five languages, trained at the Soroti flight school in Uganda before being sponsored to continue her training in Florida by national carrier Rwandair. She now flies the company's CRJ-900 regional jets across Africa.
The death of her father has influenced the way she flies. "It has moulded my character as a pilot, and I think what happened to my dad makes me a little more safe. It could have stopped me, but an accident is an accident. If someone is knocked over in a car you don't stop driving. As a pastor's child I know that you have to let stuff go."
One person who never questioned Mbabazi's plans was her mother, Ruth. A strong farmer and businesswoman, she wasn't fazed to see her daughter take to the air after what the death of her husband, who was a Pentecostal pastor before his death.
"I didn't get any resistance from my mum," Mbabazi said. "In her time she was the only girl in her electricity class, so she doesn't have any issues with what I do. She has five children and whether we want to do fashion or aviation, as long as we're doing something we're interested in, she's happy."