By Mark Michael
Nashotah House bestowed its Michael Ramsey Award, the seminary’s highest honor, on Dr. Scott and Carol Kellermann and Diane Stanton at its commencement on May 23, in recognition of the Kellermann Foundation’s work among the Batwa pygmy people of Uganda. The award honors an individual or group “whose service . . . exemplifies the world-wide vision of compassion and care” that characterized the ministry of Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Kellermanns and Stanton have worked together for more than 20 years in one of the most remote and challenging regions of the world to support the Batwa people, a ministry that has saved the lives of thousands. The Kellermann Foundation was established in 2004, and Stanton serves as its executive director.
Stanton, the wife of retired Dallas bishop James Stanton, began her work among the Batwa in 1994, at the invitation of The Rt. Rev. Livingstone Nkoyoyo, then the archbishop of the Church of Uganda. Thousands of Batwa had been evicted by the Ugandan government from their rainforest homeland in the early 1990s so that the territory could be turned into a national park for gorilla conservation. Many had received no compensation, and were without any resources for their new life in the outside world.
Working together with the local Anglican diocese, Stanton secured land for the resettlement of about 3,000 of the Batwa. The ministry gradually expanded to include building homes, educating Batwa children, and providing spiritual support. Insufficient medical care was a tremendous problem among the Batwa, with a 2000 survey indicating that a third of Batwa children died before the age of 5, mostly from malaria and malnutrition.
The Kellermanns, Episcopalians from California, met Diane Stanton in the late 1990s. They visited Uganda with Stanton, who is called “Mama Diane” by the Batwas, for the first time in 2000. A tropical medicine specialist, Scott Kellermann began offering basic medical care, traveling from place to place, setting up mobile clinics under the shade of a tree. A year later, the Kellermanns sold their practice in California and moved to Uganda to serve as medical missionaries for eight years.
Under the auspices of the Kellermann Foundation, their initial ministry continues to flourish in the region through the work of the Bwindi Community Hospital, the Bwindi Nursing School, and the Batwa Development Project. The 128-bed hospital is rated among the best in East Africa, and infant mortality among the Batwa has declined dramatically. Medical professionals from around the world help staff the hospital on short-term mission stays.
The foundation has also constructed “bandas,” community centers for worship, education, and cultural events, in most of the dozen Batwa communities they serve. Each is equipped with a water catchment system to provide clean drinking water to the local population.
In a recent interview with the Diocese of Dallas, Stanton celebrated the way the ministry has been restoring hope and affirming the dignity of the Batwa. Traditional Batwa lore, she noted, says that “when God created the world, the Batwa were the last to come to Him. ‘I am sorry,’ He said. ‘I have given everything away. All I have left for you is this forest.’ So the loss of their home marked the loss of everything, including basic dignity. But one day, several of the Batwa women came up to me and said, ‘We feel like whole people now.’ It was a touching moment. And it spoke volumes.”