Ivana Alvares-Marshall described as an honour her appointment by the UK Minister of Aviation, Maritime and Security Robert Courts.
She is a Department of Transport Aviation Ambassador alongside other nominated individuals in expert roles.
Ivana beamed: “I am proud to represent my country, Malawi. This is part of a new initiative to support the goals of the Reach for the Sky programme in the UK by acting as role models.
“We aim to inspire the next generation of aviation professionals, educate young people in the sector by working with the Department for Transport’s outreach partners and stakeholders, showcasing the varied job opportunities and pathways across aviation and championing inclusion, diversity and social mobility in the aviation sector.”
Ivana is also the African section governor for a non-profit organisation of international women pilots called the Ninety-Nines (99s).
It is the first organisation for women pilots established in 1929 by 99 women pilots founded by Amelia Earhart.
The African section promotes advancement of aviation for women through education, scholarships and mutual support while honouring its unique history and sharing their passion for flight.
According to her, the African section 99s partnered with Airbus Foundation Little Engineer last January to promote aviation for local young people through Stem subjects.
The aim, Ivana said, was to educate those aged between 10 and 16 through a series of interactive online 3D modelling workshops as well as robotics and coding.
She said the workshops cover space, the moon, mars exploration and aeronautics.
Ivana added: “The goal is to encourage students understand, embrace technology and ignite a passion that could grow into an exciting Stem career. This is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] 2030 and International Civil Aviation Organisation [Icao] next generation of aviation professionals.”
Little Engineers programme has so far reached out to seven schools.
It also teaches educational sessions to the youth concentrating on girls to bolster Stem in Africa through the Girls Wings for Africa-Stem (GWFAS) project.
They work with under-privileged children, visiting local schools in villages and starting Stem camps to inspire a new generation to reach great heights.
Ivana said there is no particular selection process of schools, but they reached out to those interested in working with the African Section 99s.
She said as an online project, students must have access to computers.
The pilot further said every student that participates in the project receives a certificate from the Airbus Foundation Little Engineer.
Ivana’s passion for flying started at the age of 10.
Said the ambassador: “I dreamed of becoming a pilot. It started while on a trip around the world when emigrating to New Zealand with my parents. Years ago, airlines allowed passengers to visit the cockpit on long haul flights. On one of those flights, I asked if I could visit the cockpit and to my surprise, they allowed me to.
“There I was, a little girl sitting on the jump seat, mesmerised by all the switches, lights and the beautiful night sky. I was hooked immediately and made it my ambition. When I completed my high school education, I still held onto my dream of flying and so it came to be despite many challenges and obstacles.”
She is currently one of the only six female pilots in the country.
Captain Yolanda Kaunda, a member of the 99s is the first female Captain of Malawian Airlines.
First Officer Lusekelo Mwenifumbo flies for Malawian Airlines while Captain Josephine Kamwala is a member of the 99s and flight instructor at a flying school in Lilongwe Eastrise Aviation.
Captain Florence Selemani is the first female pilot in the history of the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) flying fixed wing aeroplanes and Captain Ester Longwe is the first MDF female helicopter pilot .
She observed that female pilots remained a rarity, especially in Africa with just six percent of them worldwide.
Ivana said: “The numbers are starting to increase, but it is still a miniscule amount. Stem is needed now more than ever. More girls need to be engaged, excited and involved in aviation and Stem related fields.”
She observed that while initial enrolment in school was high, half of the children drop out by the end of year six and only a third complete the eight years of primary school.
Ivana observed further that dropout rate in adolescence is higher in girls than boys and often follows early pregnancy and marriage.
She noted that many African countries face significant challenges in educating their youths due to lack of equipment, access to basic amenities, non-attendance in school, poverty, HIV and Aids, child marriages, teen pregnancies, sexual harassment and violence.
“As a result, many children may be unable to read even after several years of education. Many girls in Africa do not participate significantly or perform well in Stem subjects.
“This situation becomes more pronounced as the level of education increases and a combination of factors, including cultural practices and attitudes and biased teaching and learning materials, perpetuate the imbalance,” said Ivana.
She said there was need to inspire more females and youths to get involved in industries such as aviation and other Stem related fields to promote gender equality and women empowerment.
Ivana suggested a more collaborative and concerted approach to help drive initiatives that will build capacity at the scale and speed required to bridge the skills gap and build the right talent for Africa’s future.
And if she were to change the world, the pilot said she would priotise three areas of education, health care and nutrition.
Ivana was born and raised in Malawi. She went to Phoenix Primary School and Saint Andrews International Secondary School.
She began her flying career with the late Captain Stanley Masauli.
“His daughter, Cessna Masauli and I learnt to fly together. At the time I was learning to fly in 1997, there were only two female pilots in the country; the first female pilot of Malawi Captain Veronica Zunic and Felistas Mkandawire, both who flew for Air Malawi.
“I attained my Malawian Private Pilot Licence and then went to South Africa to further my aviation career. I completed my South African Commercial Pilot Licence at 43 Air School in Port Alfred. Thereafter, I decided to obtain an international licence and gained an American FAA Commercial Pilot Licence as well as a Flight Instructors rating,” she said.
Later, Ivana completed the European Aviation Safety Administration Airline Transport Pilot Licence.
“My aviation journey has taken me to many wonderful countries, having lived in the UK where I met my husband— an aviation lawyer.
“I worked in various departments at an airport in the UK, while flight instructing and freelancing on private jets. The freelance work gave me my next opportunity which took me to Malaysia,” she added.
She lived in Malaysia for six years, worked for a palm oil company that leased jets to royal families.
She said Malaysia has 11 States, nine of which are headed by kings (sultans) that rotate every five years.
Ivana described the Malaysian stint as “exciting trips flying the royals”.
She returned to Malawi to give back to communities and share her passion for aviation through education under the African Section 99s Stem initiatives.
Ivana received the Inspiration 2021 Award for the works with 99s.
In 2019, under the umbrella of the African Section 99s, she organised the first international women pilot’s conference in Malawi.
The next international women pilot’s conference will be held this year in Rwanda in September 2022.
She added: “The last 25 years of my aviation career has given me valuable life lessons, moulding me into the person I am today. More highs than lows! I have met some wonderful people along my travels in the aviation industry. The key is to be passionate in what you do.” Her advice to girls and women is to be bold and go for it! “Ignite the passion in you and you will achieve anything your heart desires!”