According to Girls Not Brides, one in three girls in Zimbabwe are married with children before their 18th birthday.
However, at the age of 19, Agnes Niyondezi is breaking the trend by making moves to become a commercial pilot.
Her parents originally escaped a civil war in Burundi, made their way to Tanzania and then ended up in Zimbabwe.
“I was born in a camp, so all my past life has been living in a camp,” Agnes told Global News.
At the age of seven, she would watch planes fly over her home and was intrigued to know how they could fly.
From that moment on, she knew she wanted to become a pilot.
The International Society of Women Airline Pilots shows that only five per cent of pilots in the world are female.
Agnes’ mother died in 2013, so her father took the initiative to get their family sponsored so they could move to Canada for a better and more safe life with opportunities for his children.
A man at the Forest Grove Community Church had recently gone through a divorce and could not decide what to do with the money he had accumulated after the settlement, so he decided to sponsor the Niyondezi family.
“It was all like a miracle. I didn’t know what was happening, it was happening so fast,” said Agnes.
Agnes, along with her six siblings and father, moved to Saskatoon in December 2016, three months sooner than expected, in the middle of winter.
“It was so cold I thought I was going to die! We weren’t used to it,” Agnes joked.
Once they arrived, she made friends in school and asked them where she could get into a pilot program, and how soon she could possibly get there.
New to the country, let alone the city of Saskatoon, she switched schools to get into an aviation program.
“The program was for grades 11 and 12 and I was in grade 10, but the teacher let me join because I had such a passion for it,” said Agnes.
She recalls making a model airplane as one of their school projects, and then her teacher took her up in the exact aircraft later that semester.
Although she had come to Canada on a plane, this experience seemed different.
“It was scary but it was also exciting. Really exciting. It’s the best feeling being in an airplane.”
Through volunteer work, Agnes is now an employee at the Saskatoon Aviation Museum while attending flight school.
She expects to have her private pilot license by the end of the summer when she completes her final flight exam.
Agnes also hopes to get her commercial pilot license by 2023, however, that is not her biggest dream.
“I want to maybe become a captain one day. I would like to maybe be a part of a team that would be building something that is more eco-friendly,” said Agnes. “I would like to get more women in the aviation world, young women like my age or younger. I also want to get Black women into aviation. Ever since I have been in the aviation world, I have not met another Black woman.”
With dreams as big as hers, she still has a hard time processing how much she has already accomplished over the last five years.
“It’s very exciting… I honestly did not think I would come this far from just a child who had a dream in a refugee camp who didn’t know what her future was like. Sometimes I think I’m dreaming and I slap myself like wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”
Although flight school is very costly, Agnes wants to attend an aviation program at Mount Royal University.
After penning a letter to the Royal Canadian Airforce Foundation (RCAF), Agnes was one of 25 others chosen out of over 200 applicants to receive a $1,000 scholarship.
“The way she wrote, it was so personal, it was so emotional, so really those words jumped off the pages for us, so right away we were like yeah, that goes in the pile of very, very good chance of getting one of these 25,” said Jeremy Diamond, RCAF CEO.
The money will be going towards her education to help her achieve her aviation dreams.