A soul on fire
At the age of just 33, Captain Kgomotso Phatsima often has the world at her feet – literally.
The brilliant young officer is a trained pilot and one of the first females to fly a Botswana Defence Force (BDF) aircraft.
With a long list of impressive achievements and accolades to her name already, the highly intelligent, hard-working Phatsima is truly someone Botswana can take immense pride in.
She was named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Young Africans at the Africa Youth Awards this year, recognition that came a year after she won the Best Female Award at the 2017 Botswana Youth Awards.
Phatsima is also the founder and President of Dare to Dream and co-founder of Women in Aviation Botswana Chapter.
This week Captain Phatsima was awarded the Commonwealth Points of Light Award.
The award recognises outstanding volunteers, whose service makes a difference in their communities and whose story can inspire others to be creative and bring innovative solutions to challenges faced by society.
Voice reporter Portia Mlilo caught up with this dream chaser to get to the heart of her incredible story.
Q. What does this Commonwealth Award mean to you?
A. This award cements the commitment by Her Majesty the Queen and the British High Commission to continuously motivate men and women who are doing exceptional initiatives which positively impacts on their communities in Commonwealth countries.
Words cannot describe how touched and humbled I am for this international recognition.
This is an inspiration to pursue our goal as Dare to Dream to set up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Aviation Leadership Centre.
Q. Tell us about Dare to Dream?
A. Dare to Dream is a social enterprise dedicated to the advancement of youth, women and girls in aviation and aerospace as well as STEM, education awareness and equipping young people with business and entrepreneurial skills in the field of aviation.
Q. So how did your career in aviation come about?
A. I grew up in a small village called Ledumadumane, which is close to Sir Seretse Khama International Airport.
When I was young, I used to see airplanes flying over our house. From an early age, I started making planes with wires and playing with kites.
I knew I was born to fly.
I just told myself one day I will be a pilot; indeed God has answered my prayers!
Q. Describe your first time flying a plane.
A. I was so scared. When I was told I was going to fly the following day, I couldn’t sleep.
I was imagining failing to land and crashing.
It was a nightmare! After I did it, I realised it is just like driving a car.
I had fun.
Q. How easy or difficult is it to work in a male dominated industry?
A. Due to the nature of military training, which prepares you to lead men and women into the battlefield, it is not difficult for me to work in a male dominated industry.
The training prepares you to be disciplined and tough.
It is actually easy because you pay attention to your instructor and do as he says in aviation training.
My male colleagues give me a lot of support.
Q. What makes a good pilot?
A. A good pilot values humility.
A successful pilot knows there are others who can be better than them so they continuously seek advice from experienced pilots to have a safer, better, and more efficient way to handle tasks.
A pilot plans; a successful pilot performs the plan-do-check-analyze cycle.
Q. You are AU STEM Ambassador, kindly tell our readers what your role entails?
A. The African Union International Centre for Girls and Women Education in Africa (AU/CIEFFA) is a specialised institution of the AU since 2004, dealing with girls’ and women’s education.
Due to my contribution in developing the advancement of young girls in STEM Aviation and Aerospace, I was chosen to represent Botswana last week in Tunisia on a capacity building program for Entrepreneurship Coding and STEM.
It is after this workshop that I was officially endorsed as the STEM Ambassador for Botswana.
My role is to establish strategic partnerships with different stakeholders to harness the country’s young people to encourage the STEM entrepreneurs, managers and leaders of tomorrow.
Q. I understand you turned down a UNESCO scholarship – why?
A. I was chosen by UNESCO Women in Science for a PhD Scholarship in any university in any part of the world.
The L’Oreal Foundation in partnership with UNESCO, awards 14 women across the African continent that have made an impact in their communities with a fully funded PhD Scholarship.
However, I declined the PhD offer! I told them that I want to help my country and set up a STEM Aviation Leadership Centre first.
I am currently busy working on that, so going to school will shift my focus.
I am just going to Kenya to honour the award ceremony.
I will further my studies after setting up the centre.
Q. What are you doing to empower other women and aspiring female pilots?
A. My role is not necessarily to empower a girl child to be a pilot.
We are dedicated to encouraging the upcoming generation to consider different careers in the aviation industry such as Aeronautical Engineer, Air Traffic Controllers, Aviation Doctors and others.
We are also encouraging girls to venture into science based disciplines such as Mining, Forensic Science, Coding and Robotics.
Q. Any plans to start an aviation academy?
A. I have been donated two RJ85 aircraft bodies.
They are currently at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport.
My vision is to refurbish and set up a STEM Aviation Leadership Centre, a Tech hub.
It would be the first of its kind in the country to serve and develop STEM Leaders not only in Botswana but across the African continent.
However, we cannot achieve this on our own.
We need support from all stakeholders and leadership of the country to assist us to acquire the needed space to set up this centre.
The International community, from the British High Commission to the USA Embassy and the AU, have shown interest in helping us achieve this.
We now need local support.
I was selected for the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) where I had the opportunity to visit Silicon Valley Technovation among others who have shown interest in forming strategic partnership towards the achievement of this vision and contributing positively towards attaining the country’s vision of a knowledge-based economy.
Q. Your job must be incredibly demanding and draining – do you have time for a social life?
A. They are times when we are busy and when we have a relaxed schedule.
During these relaxed moments, I find time to play, visit family and go and have fun with my friends
Q. Any words of encouragement for aspiring female pilots?
A. I will take this opportunity to encourage everyone in their chosen fields to dare to unleash their innermost potential and FLY in the direction of their dreams and be fearless in the pursuit of what sets their soul on fire.
Women should also not be afraid to penetrate male dominated industries because we have the potential to do even better.
Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?
A. We are having a team building brunch session with the Dream Team at Molapo Crossing Stanbic Bank Piazza Saturday morning.