On May 14, United’s new nonstop service from Washington Dulles to Accra, Ghana, took off. Among those on the flight were Jean Olivier Cedric Mbog and Anthony C. McGee, both First Officers at United. For these pilots, who are both working to inspire kids in West Africa, having direct access to the region from the D.C. area holds extra special meaning.
“In each of the past three years, we have selected one African country to visit,” Mbog says. “We have been to Senegal, Liberia, and now Ghana. It’s our mission to leave a positive impact on the lives of the next generation in those communities by sharing our stories and talking about careers in STEM.”
“Us doing this is a reminder of who we are and where we came from,” McGee adds. “It’s important for us to go back home and share. We were once them.”
McGee grew up in the war-torn country of Liberia, where he dreamed about flying as a young boy. “My mom would come home from work and take me to look at the planes,” he recalls. “I was amazed to see them take off and land.”
As the war worsened, McGee and his family fled, relocating to Ghana as refugees. Later, they left Ghana for a new life in the U.S. “My first time at the airport and on a flight,” he says, “was when I came to the U.S.”
For Mbog, meanwhile, the dream of being a pilot started at age 5, while he was growing up in Cameroon. “My father worked out in the lumberjack field, and I would go meet him there,” he remembers. “One time, there, I saw a plane coming from the sky. It landed, and they started to unload the materials and goods.”
Curious, Mbog began to ask questions about aviation when he got home. Still, he didn’t fully consider a career in the skies until years later, when he traveled to France for college and was invited to look at the flight deck. “That’s when the aviation bug really came back up,” he says.
Mbog spent three years in France before coming to the U.S. in June 2001 to become a pilot. Then, 9/11 happened. “As a foreigner, I was told to step aside,” he recalls. “I couldn’t train anymore. It took over three years to see what they were going to do with foreign pilots.” He later secured a job flying for a regional airline, and eventually he joined United.
“My parents stressed early education,” Mbog says of the path he has taken. “Education is the way out of poverty, and I was able to achieve my dream because of it.”
It’s those stories and experiences that Mbog and McGee have related to hundreds of kids in schools, orphanages, and refugee camps in Africa. They have also visited several countries in the Caribbean, each time with the same mission: inspiring the next generation, particularly those less fortunate.
“Sometimes, we just put on our uniform and go,” McGee says. “It brings us back. They see someone like me, from their background, and now I can fly planes!”
“When you look at the kids as you speak to them, their world just lights up,” Mbog adds. “They can’t believe it. It keeps us humble.”
Today, the two pilots are building toward getting their work established as a 501(c)(3), so they can partner with more organizations and bring more awareness to fellow United employees.
“Our work and mission are not just limited to pilots,” Mbog says. “We want this to be successful in motivating other United employees to support and help, too.”
As for United’s increased presence in Africa? To the pilots, it speaks volumes.
“If you look at West Africa, there are over 400 million people,” McGee says. “You often have to go through Europe to get to Africa, and you lose a whole day just by doing it.”
“I truly believe United Airlines stands by the statement of, ‘Connecting people. Uniting the world,’” Mbog says. “I’m proud of this company and all the momentum. There is much more to come.”