An Afghan-American female pilot on a solo flight around the world seeking to inspire young women across the globe has taken a detour to visit her native Afghanistan — and meet the country's president and civil society activists struggling to safeguard women's rights.
Shaesta Waiz left her single-engine plane in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, to take a commercial flight to Kabul where she arrived on Monday night. The 29-year-old said her Beechcraft Bonanza A36 was not suited for flying over the mountainous terrain of her native country.
Waiz, the first female pilot from Afghanistan, began her journey in Florida in May and has since made stops in 11 countries, with eight more to complete her mission.
"The whole purpose of this flight around the world is not to set a world record," Waiz said during a welcoming ceremony by government officials and activists in Kabul. "The purpose of this trip is to inspire young girls and boys to believe in themselves, to believe on what they are capable of doing, regardless of where they are from or the challenges you had faced in your life."
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed Waiz at his office later on Monday evening and told her how much he admired her courage. Waiz, in turn, promised Afghan women that once her world trip is done, she would come back and find ways to help them.
Much has changed for Afghan women since the Taliban were ejected from power 16 years ago. During their rule, women were not permitted to attend school or work, were largely confined to their homes, and subjected to public beatings for violations of strict rules on what they could wear in public.
Now millions of Afghan girls go to school, compared to practically none in 2001, and many women work for the government and security services, run their own business, and are elected to parliament.
Waiz and her family moved in 1987 to the United States where she got her pilot's license, becoming the youngest certified female pilot from Afghanistan.
She took off from Daytona Beach in Florida in May and has mapped out a route that will take her aboard approximately 25,800 kilometers (16,000 miles) around 19 countries, including Canada, Spain, Britain, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Bahrain, India, Singapore and Australia, before ending the trip back in the U.S. in August.
Waiz's father, Fahim Waiz Atghandiwal, who accompanied her on the visit to Kabul, said each and every girl needs the support of her family — especially the support of her parents — to achieve her goal and turn dreams into reality.
After returning to Dubai, Waiz said she will continue her voyage to India as she seeks to become the first Afghan-American woman to accomplish a solo flight around the world.