While playing on the dusty streets of Rundu, little did Florentina Dumbu know that a profession such as a pilot ever existed. At the age of 28, Florentina is the only senior female pilot in the Namibian Police Air Wing Directorate. Her position as pilot is clear that society has raised the bar on traditional gender-based professions as Florentina is the poster child for women who live their dreams notwithstanding the barriers which exist.
When the roll of great Namibian women is compiled, look for the name of this lady and you are sure to find it there. Her tender physique belies the responsibility placed on her as she holds many a life in her small hands. Soaring high above, she is the eye looking from above, tracing every step of those who wish to go on the other line of the law.
Growing up, Florentina dreamt of becoming an astronaut. Inspired by the first African American female astronaut Mae Jemison this dream appeared still born. A costly career her parents could sadly not afford to pay for that venture. So instead she joined the University of Namibia to study medicine. Dressed in a white coat, looking down the lens of a microscope became boring as this summed up most days in the laboratory. “I am an adrenalin junkie so I could not picture myself doing that for the rest of my life,” laughs the young pilot.
In 2007, Florentina studied towards her private pilot license after securing a government scholarship. By age 21, she obtained her Private Pilot License to study at the Namibian Aviation Training Academy. By 2010, she was awarded with her Commercial License clocking more than 200 flight hours under her belt. As luck would have it, just a few months before she obtained her Commercial License, the Police Air Wing was looking for a pilot and she was headhunted by her current commander.
During the same year, she was sent to South Africa to study towards her helicopter license. “It wasn’t easy. It was hard in the beginning. This is a profession where pilots take a lot of pride in their work. In general, guys get very protective and territorial as it is not easy for them to welcome female pilots. Today, I think things are becoming more open,” as she reflects on her first days in the aviation fraternity.
Contrary to popular belief that women are not as good in the male-dominated industry, Florentina is of the opinion that when it comes to flying, women in fact do it better. “Women are smart and sometimes we fly better than guys. Men have to realise that we did not get this far by charm, we actually know something and they can actually learn something from us. But the thing is we actually have to work twice as hard just to be considered half as good. That is actually why we work so hard and at times we outperform them.”
Having being in the industry for almost 6 years now, Florentina has bagged a few VIP flights with President Geingob and former President Pohamba as guests. Other frequent flyers include NAMPOL Inspector General Sebastian Ndeitunga as well as a couple of ministers. She describes the reaction by the national leaders as overwhelming and heart warming.
And there are those who are clearly in shock when they realize she is the pilot. “There are times people have refused to get onto the chopper when they found out that I am the one flying it.
The police air wing is primarily there to provide support for police operations. They do patrols, command and control and combatting crime. Florentina personally loves flying at night because it is quiet and there is not much traffic in the skies above.
Currently there are three women who work as pilots in the Air Wing. Thus it is Florentina’s wish to see other women come on board and making it in life without and shattering these imposed gender barriers.
“There are women out there who thought of becoming pilots but then at the same time they thought it was impossible. When ones watches TV, you hardly see female pilots. So that is why people think it is not a job for women. But in fact, it is – It very much is.”
At times, Florentina is provided with an opportunity to speak to young girls and she has come to realize that many do not want to commit to one thing which includes sacrifice.
“I personally remember cancelling parties. But the problem is that today’s generation is that they find it very hard to sacrifice their social life. But truth be told, if you set your priorities right, you will be able to do it. It just requires commitment and prioritizing.”
She adds that at the moment the department is very short-staffed and as a result she is always on standby. This leaves her with little time to be free as any young person would like but “I just grin and bear it. I am also very passionate about policing and had to qualify as a police officer because oft times the police helicopter is used to combat crime.” Florentina calls on young girls to go out and grab opportunities that will build their lives.
“They are opportunities out there and you need to go out and look for information. There are a lot of people out there who want to help young people who are really serious about their lives. It requires hard work and knowing what you want. Just live a life that your future-self would be proud of.”
As she collects her final thoughts on how to empower more women, Florentina believes the process needs to be kept simple. “The same way we empower men should be the same way we empower women.”