Social worker who grew up in foster care graduates with master degree 

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By Isanella Patoir

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It took Robeena Zaman years to recognise the empowerment that comes with education, especially for women and this year, the 43-year-old social worker will be graduating from the University of Guyana with her master degree.

During an interview with the News Room, the mother of three, who grew up in foster care, spoke about how her personal experiences led her to become a social worker.

Robeena Zaman

Zaman works for the government in Region Three; she always performed exceptionally well throughout her academic journey.

She attended the Riverstown Primary School in Essequibo and later attended the Anna Regina Multilateral School. But as a result of difficult family circumstances, Zaman went to four different high schools before she could graduate.

She attended the Leonora Secondary School in Region Three, the Abraham Zuil Secondary in Essequibo and finally completed her secondary education at Brickdam Secondary in Georgetown.

At the age of 20, she became a single mother and that is when the reality of not having an education dawned on her.

“At that time, I couldn’t do much because the odds were against me,” Zaman told the News Room.

Not long after, she got married and that union produced two other children.

Zaman had plans of becoming a lawyer and in 2002 she started the University of Guyana to study law. But with no support from her family, Zaman knew she would never make it to the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago, and so, she quit.

But 13 years later she returned to the university.

“I was prompted when it was required of me to produce a diploma or a degree and I had none and I couldn’t get an increase in salary,” Zaman explained.

During this period, she was teaching at a private school in Georgetown and despite being excellent at her job “not having that piece of paper was a hindrance.”

So, Zaman resigned from her teaching position and that was when her journey in social work began.

“I went on because at that time I would have survived many challenges and I went on to read for the associate degree and completed the programme with distinction,” a proud Zaman said.

It was this achievement which taught Zaman that having an education is having empowerment.

“For me, I had nothing much except my own ability to achieve academically.

“With that qualification, I was able to gain employment with the Ministry of Human Services in 2019,” Zaman explained.

In 2019 also, Zaman applied for a scholarship to do her master’s in social work.

“I do believe it is a great accomplishment given all the challenges and adversities that I would have endured in my life.”

Why social work?

Becoming a social worker was personal for Zaman who comes from a broken family structure which led to her growing up in foster care. Luckily, her foster parents were loving and always encouraged her to do the right thing. She believes this is where her need to help others emerged.

“The resiliency that I developed for myself…I never allowed my circumstances to define me and I chose social work because I know that if learn the skills, I can help other people.”

But there are many challenges with social work in Guyana. According to Zaman, there are limited resources and “there is also lack of recognition; often time social work is being put down as soft science, social workers are not being recognised nationally here in Guyana.”

She is also calling for licensing of social workers in Guyana.

“We help all other professions because you can be a doctor and you got social problems and we need to help you understand your problems and bring about solutions.”

In the meantime, Zaman is doing what she loves – helping people and her advice for anyone who wants to pursue their dream is to keep going and never give up.

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