• Blog
  • 2007
  • UCF Graduate Student Empowers Homeless Teens in Kenya During Winter Break
Text Size:
Print This Page

UCF Graduate Student Empowers Homeless Teens in Kenya During Winter Break

Click image to enlarge

By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala

Betsy Swart is spending the holidays in Kenya helping a group of homeless boys plan their community's next big project: clean water.

Swart, a graduate student in Social Work at the University of Central Florida, is no stranger to the homeless boys of Kibera in Nairobi. She helped them start their own city-sanctioned soccer team, which took second place in the league this year. The teens also have started a youth center and cleaned up areas exposed to sewage and standing water in their community. Very few homes in the city have indoor plumbing.

Their next goal is to buy a water purification system to provide fresh water to their neighborhood.

"They are absolutely amazing" Swart said before packing up for the transatlantic flight on Dec. 10. "Many of these children lost their parents to AIDS. They have no one. And they are taking care of their community, giving back. I think that's simply amazing."

The story began in 2004, when Swart visited a friend who was teaching in a nearby school as part of a humanitarian mission in Kenya. They were walking home when they met the boys and began to chat. She got to know several of the boys, and on one of her follow up visits to the region she asked them what she could do to help.

They asked her for help in creating a soccer team. Swart used a cell phone, the Internet and Western Union to help the teens when she was back in Florida, and they stood in long lines in Kenya to get the team approved. A year later, she helped them incorporate, rent a small office and open a girls and boys center called Kibera Santiago Resource Center.

Today, about 60 boys and girls meet every Friday at the center. They talk, learn new skills and have a chance to be kids. They also plan their community service projects at the center.

Swart credits one of the teens - Jackson Muhoro - for being the glue that keeps the group cohesive.

"He was a homeless boy himself and grew up in these conditions," she said. "He's a little older than the other kids now, and he's taken on the role of coach and leader."

Meanwhile, Swart has created her own nonprofit, Outreach Kibera. She collects money to pay for soccer uniforms, cleats, wheelbarrows, rakes and other items the group needs.

During her December visit, she is helping the teens plan for the purchase of the water tank and purification system.

Swart said what she is learning in her master's program at UCF has helped her aid the teens of Kenya.

"The school focuses on social justice and cultural competency in the practice of social work," she explained. "We're taught to not only help individuals but to also address injustices, such as poverty and racism, in larger social systems. It's been empowering for me as a student."

Swart, of Orlando, is also helping others closer to home thanks to the UCF program. As part of her studies, she is volunteering at the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture in Tampa. It's a program of the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services. Clients there tend to be refugees from other countries. She said she's sharpened her Swahili skills by working with the refugees here and in Kenya.

The fifty-something Orlando resident has always had a passion for helping people. After she earned a master's in English, she joined Greenpeace and worked with that organization for years. Since 1984, she has worked for another international social justice organization with offices throughout the world, including Florida.

Share and Enjoy:

Categories :


The health care informatics master's program at UCF really helped me connect with the industry, meet people at conferences and sit for the most-desired certification exams."
— Michael Neimann M.S. in health care informatics ('14)
My internship with the District 9 Medical Examiner’s Office was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I gained an excellent understanding of the medical examiner’s office and the criminal justice field in general."
— Adam Stubley B.S. in criminal justice, criminal profiling certificate ('11)
UCF provides its physical therapy students with an excellent education and prepares them to work in the most challenging of settings."
— Jamie Dyson Rehabilitation Supervisor, Orlando Regional Medical Center
UCF's program provided me the opportunity to expedite my student experience while attaining practical experience working within local health systems."
— Daniel Barr V.P. at National Children's Hospital; M.S. in health sciences, health services administration track ('04)
My master's education helped me see the big picture of the nonprofit industry. UCF showed me how to see the different fundraising tools within the Central Florida area."
— Krysti Griffith Executive Director of Growth from Grief; Master of Nonprofit Management ('12)
The course opened my eyes to grant writing ... I learned a great deal and you [Barbara Howell] are truly an excellent instructor."
— Deborah Reith Master of Public Administration student who secured a $10,000 federal grant through a course project; B.S. in criminal justice ('86)
The skills I learned during my time at UCF are what made my transition to law school so seamless."
— Jacqueline Iaquinta Touro Law Center student; B.S. in legal studies ('10)
As an inaugural graduate of the M.R.A. program at UCF, I can attest to the outstanding curriculum developed for research administrators. "
— April Heyward Post Award Services Coordinator, University of South Carolina; Master of Research Administration ('13)
It was at UCF that I first learned many of the skills that I’ve since honed, including mapping with GIS software - an ability I found invaluable to my search for internships, graduate-level coursework, and employment."
— Richard "Ben" Hagen Research and Communications Associate, New Economy Project, New York City; B.S. in public administration ('10)
I am excited to be able to give back to the program that invested so much in me. It is truly and honor and a privilege."
— Carlos Gual Instructor of Athletic Training; B.S. in athletic training ('09)
The faculty advisor [at my medical school] was amazed that I had the opportunity to truly participate in the full spectrum of research as an undergraduate. "
— Chase Cavayero, medical student at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicince, B.S. in health sciences - pre-clinical ('13) 
Give a Gift - The College of Healh & Public Affairs