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A reverence for helping the poor

From his home in La Crescenta, Peter Keller is making a difference in Africa.

November 11, 2011|By Kelly Corrigan

In the Ugandan town of Gulu and its surrounding villages, the locals call Peter Keller “Muzungo,” the Acholi word for white person.

In Gulu, and in La Crescenta, where he has lived for 36 years, Keller oversees Aid Africa, the one non-governmental organization consistently serving locals, formerly known as “Internally Displaced Persons.”

Keller has taken a river boat on the Nile and seen elephants drink at the river’s banks, but Gulu is no tourist destination, and few aid workers inhabit the town of 175,000.


For 22 years, displaced families lived in crowded camps. They’d been ordered to leave their homes in the late 1980s by the Ugandan government when Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, rampaged through Central Africa killing adults, forcing boys to become soldiers and girls to become sex slaves.

The people were allowed to return to their bush-overgrown homes in April 2009, but they were without tools, water and seeds with which to rebuild their lives.

Aid Africa’s mission is to uplift the communities. It was established in 2007 by Keller’s longtime friend, former Burbank resident Ken Goyer.

Goyer once watched women cook over fire in El Salvador, an experience that compelled him to build a more efficient stove. Four years later, Goyer had the Rocket Stove. Made of bricks, it costs $10, uses minimal wood and emits very little smoke.

When Rotary International sent Goyer on a worldwide tour to teach impoverished communities how to use the stove, Goyer felt Northern Uganda was most in need of humanitarian aid.

Goyer oversaw Aid Africa until his death from cancer in 2010. Keller took over, although he already had volunteered in Gulu for four years.

“I was afraid the poverty was going to crush me,” Keller said of his first visit. “The thing that you find there, the reason I can go, is that the people have such good spirit. The children play, the women sing, the men chat. They’re living their lives.”

Prior to that, the 1965 Hoover grad wrote and edited television shows such as “The West Wing,” “JAG” and “Baywatch.”

“I tell people, ‘I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. It really took me 60 years to figure it out,’” he said.

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