From Refugee to Pilot Trainee: Kazzembe Shares Aviation Aspirations

Attendees of ALPA’s 66th Air Safety Forum on Thursday heard an inspiring story from an aspiring aviator. Dieudonne Kazzembe, a current senior at Arizona State University (ASU) who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, detailed the obstacles he has overcome on his path to the flight deck, showing his own leadership to the many attendees in the room with a call for everyone to follow their passions and conquer their goals.  

Kazzembe’s story is truly incredible. Two years after losing both parents at the age of three, he and his surviving family members relocated to a refugee camp in Uganda, where they stayed for eight years. In 2014, Dieudonne came to the United States as an unaccompanied refugee minor.

“But then, at 13, I came to the United States, and I found myself falling in love with planes,” Kazzembe said. “The love of flying made me want to improve all aspects of my life—I went from a miserable kid to a plane at full thrust.”

With his passion for aviation, Kazzembe focused on his studies to fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot. As a four-time Aero Club Foundation scholarship recipient, he is using scholarship funds to pay for flight training at ASU and is close to receiving his private pilot’s license.

“If you have a passion for something, never let it go. No one can limit your successes,” Kazzembe said. “If you believe in yourself, you can turn your life around. I was a refugee, but now I’m an incredible man with many stories to tell.”

Kazzembe symbolizes the American dream, coming to speak at the Air Safety Forum one day after his U.S. citizenship ceremony. His story touched everyone, including the many pilots in the room who he aspires to follow to the flight deck. Kazzembe left the stage with these motivational words: “Once you conquer your mind, you can conquer anything. Always know that you can beat the odds, like I did.”

Our union’s goal is to inspire all young people to see themselves as airline pilots and help aspiring students like Kazzembe find clear pathways to the flight deck. ALPA is dedicated to creating a diverse, accessible, inclusive profession while protecting the high level of safety already present in North American air transportation.