The story of Precious Sibalo, a fast-rising female Zimbabwean pilot who overcame great adversity to fly around the world, is the stuff that motivates inspires young people not just in Zimbabwe, but the whole world.
Sibalo’s journey to the cockpit was by no means an easy feat. She had to overcome societal barriers and challenge stereotypes before she successfully secured a coveted role in aviation.
A mother at 17
Born in Plumtree, Zimbabwe, Precious encountered turbulence before she was able to take off from the runway. After becoming a mother at the age of 17, Precious’s dreams of pursuing a university education came to a halt. Instead, she relocated to South Africa and became a waitress and a part-time model.
Sometime later, she seized the opportunity to move to Dubai where she worked as a waitress, while in Dubai she went for interviews for Qatar airways, got the job and worked for five years as cabin crew member.
Today, Precious holds an Integrated Airline Transport Pilot License (IATPL) and completed an Airbus A320 MCC course, she aspires to fly for Qatar Airways or any reputable aviation company.
Precious is a well-known philanthropist in her community and was responsible for setting up and facilitating relief initiatives during the Covid-19 pandemic where she supported multiple families in need.
The school trip to the airport that changed everything
Precious was first introduced to the aviation industry when she was eight years old. During a school trip to Zimbabwe’s Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport, previously known as Bulawayo International Airport, she became intrigued while viewing aircraft arrive and depart the runway.
She says: “I was watching the pilots as they came in and noticed how they looked in their uniform. I was really inspired. But then something caught my eye. I could not see any female pilots. When going back to class, I asked my teacher if it was possible to become a pilot as a girl. She told me ‘You most definitely can be a pilot as a girl’ and from that day on, I resolved that I would be a pilot, even against all odds.
“I could already see that it was male-dominated, but I knew that I wanted to be one of the few women in aviation.”
Setback upon setback, but Precious surged ahead
After became a young mother, her plans to continue into a higher education was thwarted and she also lost her own mother around this time unfortunately.
She says: “My friends and I had plans to go to certain universities and my dreams were shattered. I had to leave Zimbabwe to go to South Africa to search for a job to fend for my family and my daughter. As soon as I left for South Africa, I lost my mother. So that was the most difficult time of my life.”
During this time, Precious recalls moments of feeling extremely low and disheartened.
“The most difficult and heart-breaking transition was having to leave my daughter behind in order to provide for her,” she explains.
“She was in safe hands, but I often asked myself what kind of a parent leaves their child. And there are a lot of women who are going through this. Being forced to leave their children behind in search of greener pastures to provide for them and their family. That was what I went through, and I had to find a way to keep going.”
“So, I decided to pick myself up and work hard towards achieving my dreams because, wishing thinking without action does not fulfil dreams.”
From cabin crew to pilot
Precious began working as a waitress in restaurants and also undertook part-time modelling assignments in South Africa, she was offered a job opportunity to work in Dubai and travelled there with Qatar Airways, little did she know that three months after arriving in Dubai, she would return to Qatar Airways as a cabin crew member, rather than a passenger.
She recalls: “During that flight, I remember looking at one of the cabin crew and admired her work ethics and willingness to help. At that moment I did not know that one day I would do the same for Qatar Airways. While working for the airline, we met again and I told her about how we first met and how she was of great help, she was very touched.
“Each time I walked down the aircraft isle, I knew that I needed to behave in a certain way and in a professional manner because I might be inspiring someone.”
During her tenure as a cabin crew, Precious’s desire to become a pilot resurfaced, I remember being curious about the instruments in the cockpit and the responsibilities and demands that are required of pilots. I found that once I revealed my interest in becoming a pilot, captains, and officers I flew with were very supportive and they told me to go for it. They were instrumental in grooming me while I was flying as a cabin crew.
“It was quite an interesting journey because around the same time that I was about to pursue my pilot career, I was also eligible for promotion to become a senior cabin member.”
Precious was not only setting an example by her exemplary conduct in the cabin, but she had also resolved to give back. When traveling all over the world, Precious began visiting schools and orphanages.
She says: “The best part about traveling to multiple destinations is that when you land, there is an excitement to explore new places, in some countries where I saw a need, I am traveling with a purpose of visiting orphanages and care homes.
“Initially, I started reaching out to my friends for us to collect essentials that we were not using and to donate them to orphanages and schools, charity isn’t just about giving food or material things but rendering your services too.”
She recalls a visit to an orphanage during a dental hygiene programme to teach the kids how to apply tooth paste and brush their teeth.
She adds: “That’s what I believe charity is about and those were the most precious moments.”
In 2017, Precious decided to kick-start her studies at 43 Air School in South Africa. This pursuit of a seat on the flight deck grew in tandem with her desire to create more impact with various relief projects in her community.
Precious says: “On my way to 43 Air School, I passed an area with less privileged people. I could see that people were struggling when Covid-19 hit in 2020, most of the people lost their jobs. To me, that was a cry for help, and I said ‘how can I contribute? How can I be an answer to someone’s prayer? How can I help someone who does not have food or who does not know where their next meal will come from?”
Precious’s big heart for others
In August 2020, Precious created an initiative called, a Birthday with a Purpose. Instead of receiving gifts from her friends, the initiative prompted people to offer food and essentials as part of support packages to be given to homes affected by the pandemic.
Precious raised enough supplies and motivational books, with the help of the district mayor and a group of friends, distributed them to over 100 families. The achievement was incredibly fulfilling and sparked international interest.
She says: “We took a risk. It was during the peak of Covid-19, we all wore masks, but there was uncertainty. However, we went door to door, delivering to the less privileged pensioners.
“Today, we are encouraging a lot of people to do this. The initiative has really taken root with my friends and community, it has taken on a snowball effect globally, with people as far away as Canada.”
Currently, Precious is building hours in a Cessna 172 in South Africa to keep her skills up to date during an extended period on the ground and plans to commence her instructor rating training to further her aviation skills. She also uses social media to encourage aspiring young pilots and hopes to set up a structure to assist in financing a group of student pilots.
She adds: “We are hoping that in future, we’ll get sponsors offering to help people from our group, we are keeping the faith that those who have lost their jobs or are aspiring to fly will get the opportunity to fulfil their dreams.
“My wish is for people to be able to better themselves and to never give up, it is always darkest before dawn.”
- This article was originally published by Aerotime Hub in June 2021. HourlyHits has republished with moderate editing.