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The sky's the limit

From joining the RAF cadets to training with pilots, Amani’s passion for flying has helped her confidence take off.

Thrill seeker Amani (14) has always had a taste for adventure. She laughs as her mum Hibba talks about their recent trip to a theme park. “They’ve got some really scary rides. And you know what? Amani got on every single one of them. It was too much for me!”

“My favourite was called Velocity,” grins Amani. “It went really high up.” Amani, who’s profoundly deaf and uses cochlear implants, enjoys challenging herself and going out of her comfort zone. But just like many teenagers, finding this fearlessness has been a journey.

With a supportive mum and three older siblings, two of whom are also deaf, having strong family role models has been a big part of Amani’s growing confidence. Older sister Memunah (32) has found success as a professional photographer, and brother Saifullah (27) is a qualified computer engineer. Meanwhile, hearing sister Liya (17) has been a great example at school.

“I’ve never wrapped my children in cotton wool,” says Hibba. “Go on and do it! Prove it to the world. If they can do it, so can you.”

But Amani initially struggled with her confidence. Looking for an activity to give her a boost, she decided to try the RAF cadet group at her school and loved the way the cadets helped her meet friends and learn new skills.

“When I first started, I did it to help my confidence,” explains Amani. “We do marching drills and activities in the field like shooting. I think my favourite thing we do is drills – it feels really professional.”

“Her confidence is sky high since she joined,” adds Hibba. “You go there, it’s all new faces and you have to speak up. When she’s in her uniform, she’s a different Amani. I’m so glad she picked it because it’s helped her a lot.”

Amani soon got the opportunity to attend an RAF cadets’ residential camp and tried lots of other exciting activities. “There was this really tall pole that they had to climb, and there’s a level where they jump off,” says Hibba, as Amani laughs.

“I was like, how can you not be scared of that, Amani? She’s definitely not scared of heights!”

Amani’s newfound confidence with heights proved very useful later in the camp when she got the chance to pilot a plane for the first time. Although she was nervous at first, Amani quickly found a real passion for flying.

“It was really fun,” says Amani. “I loved it when I took the controls because I was really in control of a plane. I couldn’t believe it!”

The experience inspired Amani to look into pursuing a career as an RAF pilot. Sadly, she discovered this wasn’t possible, as she would need to pass a hearing test to take on an active military role.

Disappointed but undeterred, Amani began looking for a different way to take to the skies again. Together with her mum, they found the charity Aerobility, which offers free and subsidised flying lessons to people with a variety of conditions and disabilities.

When Hibba got in touch with the charity and told them about Amani’s interest in flying, they offered her a free lesson with an instructor. “Before the lesson, I felt really nervous,” says Amani, “But I didn’t feel like that at all in the plane. The next day, I was so shocked – I actually flew a plane!”

While the loud noise of the engine was challenging, her instructor showed good deaf awareness and they were able to work out ways to communicate during the flight. “Amani had a headset on, but even then it can get really noisy for her,” says Hibba. “The instructor asked beforehand what she wanted him to do. We asked him to speak loudly and he said, ‘No problem.’

“We might look into arranging a radio aid for the instructor, so she can hear him more clearly in the future.”

Amani is now determined to continue her lessons with Aerobility. Although she loves shopping, she’s happily said she’ll give it up, along with presents on her birthday and Eid, for flying lessons.

In the future, Amani hopes her flying will also help her pursue her interest in travel. She dreams of exploring the world and is enjoying learning Spanish at school.

“It’s very nice to learn a different language,” says Amani. “The sounds are nice to say and it’s very useful, especially when you’re travelling.”

“I was initially worried about her learning a language for GCSE,” adds Hibba. “But that didn’t stop Amani, she knew what she wanted and I went along with that. The school warned us that she may struggle but we fought to get them to allow her to do it.

“We work together around the challenges; Amani sits at the front of the class in her language lessons, she uses the radio aid in class and uses language apps to support her learning. One thing she particularly struggles with is pronouncing words but we’re working on that with her teacher.”

While Amani isn’t flying internationally just yet, she’s got big dreams for the future. Along with continuing her lessons, she hopes to study engineering at college, so she can understand more about how aeroplanes work.

“Flying is something I really enjoy doing,” she says. “And just because you’ve got something with your hearing, it can’t stop you from doing what you want to do.”

Summer 2023 Families magazine