• Maya Ghazal has taken her first solo flight at an airfield west of London.
  • She’s a co-sponsor of the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR’s first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva.
  • She says education for refugees is crucial to help them follow their dreams.

When Maya Ghazal was a schoolgirl growing up in Damascus, she dreamed of being a diplomat. The civil war in Syria changed everything, but a new life in the UK has given her a new dream: becoming the first female Syrian refugee pilot.

Four years after fleeing her home country, the 20-year-old has taken her first solo flight. It’s an important milestone in her journey to becoming a fully fledged pilot.

But her achievement has been hard-fought. Her family left Syria when it became unsafe for her to walk to school.

Overcoming challenges

When she first arrived in the UK, she struggled with the language barrier and found it hard to get a place in school.

"I thought they would look down on me as someone who was uneducated, unskilled, unfit to be in a school," she says.

But then, she says, she learned education is a right. "It’s not that they can just reject me, education for refugees is important."

Maya Ghazal solo flight
20 year old Maya Ghazal is a trainee pilot, advocating for the opportunities for refugees.
Image: UNHCR

One day, she was looking at planes taking off and landing at Heathrow with her mother, and realized she wanted to learn to fly.

"I was always just observing planes and I’m fascinated by those huge machines," she says.

"I fell in love with the adrenaline and how you feel up in the air, and how you have control over your path. You decide where you go and nothing is really limiting you."

Speaking out

She’s now studying aviation engineering at university, as well as training to be a commercial pilot. And she’s speaking out about the rights of refugees around the world, too.

Maya Ghazal UNHCR
Maya Ghazal was a co-sponsor of the UNHCR's first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva.
Image: UNHCR

This December, she was a co-sponsor of the UNHCR’s first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, putting refugee education high on the agenda for ministers, business and faith leaders and non-governmental organizations.

"We just want to be viewed as normal human beings, with normal potential, normal hopes and dreams and futures that we want to build," says Maya.

"I want to make sure that everyone understands that actually every person counts, every dream counts and it’s very important for us to believe in each other and spread kindness."