Advocating for the Vulnerable
By Catherine Donnelly
As a newly minted social worker, Alphonsina Habiyambere, MSW ’22, is currently seeking a position where she can work with the elderly and help individuals maintain their independence for as long as they can.
“During one of my field experiences, I met a resident who had been in the long-term facility for an extended time and that experience stuck with me. I also worked extensively with patients with Alzheimer's disease,” said Habiyambere. “I want to assist individuals to remain in their homes and communities and empower them to manage their own care choices for as long as they can do so. I am excited to begin to make a difference in our community.”
Habiyambere, who is originally from Rwanda, moved to the United States from East Africa in 2000. After working as a certified nurse assistant (CNA) and completing her bachelor’s in social work at SUNY Buffalo State College, she decided to pursue UB’s Advanced Standing Program (ASP) to complete her master’s work. The ASP option is only for students who completed their bachelor's degree in social work from an accredited institution and are prepared to complete an accelerated and advanced curriculum.
“I was nervous at first, but Professor Sue Green was very encouraging. She is a tough teacher, but by the end of her summer class, I felt very knowledgeable about trauma-informed care. In fact, I use that information with my clients regularly,” continued Habiyambere. “I also have to thank Professor Deborah Waldrop for her knowledge about an aging population but also for her support. The advanced program is very intense but I never felt alone.”
“Alphonsina is an outstanding student who came to the MSW program with 15 years of experience as a CNA in long-term care facilities. These experiences shaped the fierce dedication she has for working with older adults who have dementia by becoming a social worker,” said Professor Emeritus Deborah Waldrop. “The importance of gerontological social workers who are committed to improving care in our long-term care facilities cannot be overstated. Alpha’s interest, passion, and expertise are timely and desperately needed as our society addresses the challenges of providing quality nursing home care.”
“My best field experience was at Fallon Health (Weinberg campus) because I was allowed to work directly and in-person with an elderly population. It was so wonderful to be back engaging with people and not only working online.”
As a result of that internship, and her commitment to social work practice with older adults living with dementia, Habiyambere received the Mary O’Donnel Memorial Scholarship Award this year.
“I was very happy and honored to receive that award. I appreciate the recognition for the hard work that I completed,” she said. “Working in this field is my goal and I hope to remain in Buffalo as I advance in my career.”
Her advice for new students is to read their emails and talk to their peers and teachers. “The pandemic complicated my training, but that is life. You have to be willing to seek help when you need it and offer help to others if they need it. I had a good support system at UB that helped me a lot.”