Sonia Kabuguza strides confidently into the café where we planned to meet. Smiling as she greets me, she apologises for the short time we have, “I have to be on a flight to Mwanza in an hour and a half,” she says. Indeed, the jet setting lifestyle has arrived for some in Kigali, as Rwandair launched its training program for young Rwandese women in 2008.
Flight attendants have long been admired and their jobs coveted as they effortlessly keep calm, cool, and collected at 36,000 feet. “Customer service is so important,” says Sonia, “but safety is our number one priority.”
“They train us in all aspects of safety procedures, and we have to undergo several performance checks before we can pass a probation period.”
Long before Sonia was passing aviation tests with flying colors, working for Rwandair wasn’t even on her mind. “My friend came to me one day with an advert in The New Times that Rwandair was accepting applications.” 18 years old at the time, “I didn’t exactly know what it consisted of,” she chuckles.
“I was the last to apply in before the deadline. I got through three interviews and a written exam and was in the middle of training before I realised I really liked it.”
Training is strenuous and demanding. The selected women are sent to Johannesburg for two months where Rwandair outsources its inflight training. Then, they return to Kigali to work with the national staff. Throughout the training, tests and evaluations are conducted, with candidates quickly dropping out. “Not everyone makes it,” says Kabuguza. Supervisors are constantly checking and grading one’s performance. “You must be situationally aware, reacting without any kind of hesitation, quickly avoiding any potential dangers.”
It prepared her well, as she has had to respond to several medical emergencies in her four years with Rwandair, using skills she learned in the medical course of her training. “Fortunately, we were able to give the care and attention needed.”
While the safety skills she has learned might be her favorite aspect of the job, the allure of traveling and the beauty of flight doesn’t escape her. “My favorite place to fly to is Dar es Salaam; when youare about to land and you see the ocean, it’s just beautiful...” her voice trails off.
“Every day is never the same on a flight. Every day you have different people and different situations. You are always meeting someone new, even the ones you are working with. For me, I love it.”
The tall and elegant Kabuguza was born and raised in Kicukiro, with a sister and two brothers. She went to secondary school at La Colombiere and the 22year old currently studies at the School of Finance and Banking, where she is persuing a a bachelor’s in Finance.
In 2010, she was crowned Miss SFB, beating seven other women in the tightly contested competition. Each contestant was asked two questions, which were answered in either English or French. She scored 76.6 percent, and pocketed Frw200, 000, a brand new Nokia phone (worthRfw130, 000), and Rwf 50,000 airtime. Other prizes included; a six months package of cosmetics by Sulfo Rwanda, and hair treatment, courtesy of Hair and Fashion Saloon
Flying four to five days a week and attending school in her off hours doesn’t leave much free time. “Now most of my friends are the ones who work for Rwandair, because I don’t have any time!” Sonia laughs. When she can manage it, she likes to stay active by playing tennis or swimming. And of course, “I like to hang out with friends from home, when I have a chance.”
Kabuguza encourages other young women to apply to Rwandair. “It is a great place to work, and there are so many opportunities. Not just in Rwanda, but in all aviation.” She believes that customer service is an area that needs work in Rwanda, and that Rwandair is an excellent place to learn these skills. “Often, we are the first Rwandese greeting a foreigner to our country,” says Sonia, “it’s important to give the best quality service.”
On track to graduate with a bachelor’s in 2013, does Kabuguza plan to find another job? “No,” she answers with a glint in her eye, “I’m still there, I want to stay.”