From walking to school barefoot to aviation trailblazer: Capt Phatsima’s story

From walking to school barefoot to becoming one of Botswana’s first female military pilots, Captain Kgomotso Phatsima has truly dared to dream. 

Phatsima has become the latest recipient of an AeroTime Achievement Award for her work in inspiring the next generation of aviators and advancing the education of women and girls in STEM subjects via her organization, Dare to Dream. AeroTime spoke to this inspiring woman as part of the one year celebrations for our Women in Aviation Campaign.  

Growing up in a small village in Botswana near an airport, Phatsima knew from a young age that she wanted to be in the sky. 

“I used to see aeroplanes flying over my mother’s house. From a young age, I knew I was born to fly,” she tells AeroTime. However, when Phatsima shared her dream with her mother, she was told the family was too poor and that she should go to university and become a teacher.  

“With a heavy heart I went to university and indeed became a teacher,” Phatsima recounts, explaining how she achieved a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and physics.  

However, when the Botswana Defence Force decided to enlist its first female military pilots, with a requirement for a degree in a science subject, Phatsima knew no one could stand in her way this time.  

“When I told [my mother] that I wanted to join the army and become a pilot, she cried. But I told her ‘No mother, this is my dream. This is what resonates in my heart’.” 

Dare to Dream 

It was while she was flying for the military that Phatsima set up Dare to Dream in 2011, a non-profit organization that aims to encourage the advancement of young people, women and girls in the aviation and aerospace industry and in STEAME (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, entrepreneurship). 

 “When I was growing up, I never sat down with a pilot, nor had I been inside of a flying machine until I had the opportunity to fly it,” Phatsima explains.  

“COVID-19 has changed the outlook of everything. We need to encourage our young people not only to be in the STEM careers, but also to consider careers as entrepreneurs in the STEM space.” 

Dare to Dream is based in the Botswana Digital and Innovation hub and aims to inspire young people from underprivileged backgrounds by teaching them robotics and coding and taking them up in the air to experience flying for the first time. 

Phatsima explains that in 2021, Dare to Dream took a group of children from rural areas and provided them with a robotics and coding workshop, gave them an airport tour and took them up in a plane. A few months later, they passed their Primary School certificates with the highest results ever from their village.  

Just a few weeks ago, in February 2022, Dare to Dream organized for 60 girls from rural areas to have their first trip to an airport and their first experience of flying.  

“It was amazing. It was a beautiful experience for them,” Phatsima says, noting how some of the girls were initially scared but then started dancing in the plane. “These young people, they have potential, they have dreams that are there, but they are not exposed to these careers, to this environment.”  

Phatsima’s message is clear: “Because when we empower a girl child, you don’t only empower a nation or a village, you empower a nation, empower a community, you change the world. Our message is reverberating across the world. Because if you put resources and empower women, amazing things happen.” 

Changing the world 

Phatsima, who has been recognized by the Obama Foundation and the UK’s Points of Light scheme, needs more funding for her work, however. Dare to Dream wants to work across more southern African countries, set up its own youth aviation development hangar, and buy its own Cessna Grand Caravan to continue its work in inspiring young girls in aviation.  

“We really need resources so that we can help more young girls, more women get into this industry. Not only for them to be pilots, technicians or aeronautical engineers, but also to be leaders. To have a chief executive officer of Airbus or Boeing being a woman – that’s what we need to change the world!” 

To this day, Phatsima is grateful to the Botswana Defence Force for sponsoring her flying dreams.  

“A lot has to be done in trying to help young girls, young woman and give them sponsorship opportunities so that they can be able to get into the aviation industry. As we know it is a very, very expensive voyage for you to sponsor yourself. 

“Had it not been for the Botswana Defence Force to sponsor me to go and fly, I would not even be here talking to you or doing the work that I do at Dare to Dream and changing the lives of as many girls as possible, not only in Botswana, but those who are watching online across the world.” 

What is Phatsima’s final message for those watching and reading this article? 

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire. It is not going to be easy. A lot of doors are going to be closed on your face. A lot of people are going to doubt your capabilities. But go out there and make sure that you make your dream.”

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