A Christian missionary is being sued in Ugandan court after two mothers accused her of pretending to be a doctor and accidentally killing their children. Renee Bach, 35, is the founder of Serving His Children (SHC), a nonprofit organization created to combat malnutrition in Uganda. The lawsuit alleges Bach killed hundreds of children by attempting to treat them without any medical training.
“I can’t rule out the fact that children died like they do die in any health facility. But still, it’s not true to say that I killed them,” Bach said in a comment read by Al Jazeera.
The lawsuit, brought about by two mothers whose children died while in the care of SHC, says that families were led to believe Bach was a medical doctor and that her house was a medical facility. The Women’s Probono Initiative, an organization that is representing the two mothers, issued a press release claiming Bach typically wore a white lab coat and stethoscope and was often seen providing medicine and medical treatment to children.
“It is unacceptable, narcissistic behaviour, for anyone, black or white, rich or poor, missionary or angel to pass off as a ‘medical practitioner’ when they are not,” the Women’s Probono Initiative statement read.
Here’s what you need to know about Renee Back and the Ugandan lawsuit.
1. Bach Started the Charity Serving His Children After Graduating High School
A Bedford, Virginia native, Bach first traveled to Uganda when she was 18 and claimed she “fell in love” with Africa. Bach decided soon after to start Serving His Children and set the organization up in the village of Masese, outside of Jinja, Uganda’s second largest city. Bach told her hometown paper, the Smith Mountain Eagle, that founding the charity was “God’s call for her life.”
In 2014, the organization had 24 paid staff and was caring for 100-150 children annually. The center was reported to have a small medical clinic and an inpatient program equipped to house 16 children at a time. Bach said the average stay for a severely malnourished child is four to six weeks. “Our main goal is, of course, to share the love of Christ, in word and deed,” she said.
According to the nonprofit reporting website Guidestar, SHC was incorporated in 2009 and Bach serves as its director. It states that the charity has three main goals: to provide medical treatment, nutrition education and help community leaders and local hospitals utilize local resources for food. In 2017 the News & Advance reported that Bach’s mother was on the organization’s board of directors and that her sister handled the SHC’s online presence.
SHC has Guidestar’s 2018 “Seal of Transparency” on its website, indicating that the organization is open about its work and finances. In 2014, the Smith Mountain Eagle reported that charity’s offices were based out of the Radford Baptist Church, the church her family attends in Virginia.
The paper noted that Bach is the second oldest of five children. She graduated from high school in 2007 and traveled to Uganda soon after. Bach has adopted a Ugandan daughter, Selah Grace.
2. The Lawsuit Claims SHC Was Ordered to Shut down in 2015
The lawsuit against Bach and SHC was brought forward by Gibo Zubeda and Kaki Rose, two mothers who claim their children died after they brought them to SHC for help. The women have stated that Bach misled them by acting like a doctor. The lawsuit also states that SHC has disregarded a 2015 order imposed by the District Health Officer to close down and not provide treatment to any other children. The women are seeking damages for themselves as well as other families whose children died while in the care of SHC.
“My son – Elijah Benjamin would be two (2) years old today had he been alive. I delivered him at Jinja Hospital on 21st January 2017. I feel his life was snatched from my arms by the actions of Ms. Renee Bach. I hope the court can give me Justice,” Rose painfully said in a January 29, 2019 press release issued by the Women’s Probono Initiative.
The Women’s Probono Initiative is calling the children’s deaths human rights violations. According to their website these equate to violations of the “right to access adequate treatment, the right to health of the children, the right to life, the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race and social economic standing and the right to dignity, freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
3. Bach Allegedly Learned Medical Procedures by Reading and Watching YouTube Videos
The organization No White Saviors, has accused Bach providing children with medical treatment she learned by watching YouTube videos. The group claims that Bach took children from legitimate hospitals and medical centers for treatment at SHC and was very open about how much she enjoyed providing “hands-on medical care.”
In a blog post that’s since been removed from the SHC website, Bach wrote about how she cared for a sick infant named Patricia. “I hooked the baby up to oxygen and got to work. As I took her temperature, started an IV, checked her blood sugar, tested for malaria, and looked at her HB count (her family) began to tell me her story.”
Witnesses claim to have seen Bach perform a number of procedures include drawing blood, prescribing medications, giving intravenous injections, inserting catheters and administering oxygen. Former colleagues said she answered to “mussawo” the Lugandan word for “doctor.” When asked how she was basing treatments, she told one former assistant that she referred to Where There is No Doctor: A Village Healthcare Handbook.
No White Saviors was able to locate several of Bach’s deleted posts and turn them over to Ugandan authorities. The group also claims that several of Bach’s former staff and volunteers revealed that the SHC founder was performing “high-level medical practices” on local children. Because proper medical protocols weren’t followed, No White Saviors states that it’s difficult to determine exactly how many children’s lives were endangered by Bach and SHC.
4. Critics Accuse Bach Of “White Saviorism” And “Experimentation”
Bach’s critics are calling this a case of “white saviorism,” the trend for mostly white aid workers to help non-white people in developing countries in a way that may benefit the non-native individuals more than the community they came to help.
“We often hear foreign nationals speak of how “corrupt” Ugandan run projects are and that donors should “not trust the locals”, but what exactly is it called when a foreigner pays themselves up to 900% more than their Ugandan staff?” the No White Saviors website asks.
No White Saviors co-founder Alaso Olivia Patience said in an interview with Al Jazeera that many volunteers say that it is God who sends them from Africa. “Most of the time I ask myself this question: ‘When is God going to send the African people to America or any part of Europe?’”
Patience stated that Bach’s attempt to provide medical care without training equated to experimentation and that Bach failed to change her behavior even when she saw children die. “People have taken Africa to be an experimental ground where you can come and do anything and walk away and go without anyone holding you accountable.”
Medical Anthropologist Noelle Sullivan told Al Jazeera that many westerners are socialized from an early age to perform acts of kindness, but often assume they are more knowledgeable about social issues. According to Sullivan, this need to help without truly understanding a community’s history and culture can cause volunteers to undermine the work of local professionals.
5. Bach’s Attorney Calls the Allegations “Nonsensical”
On Monday, June 24, The nonprofit legal ministry National Center for Life and Liberty (NCLL), issued a statement on Bach’s behalf refuting the allegations. NCLL stated that Bach “played an administrative role to coordinate the operations and assure funding,” and had left medical treatment up to the Ugandan physicians and healthcare team working with SHC.
The statement goes on to say that the lawsuit is “entirely without merit.” According to NCCL, one of the children named in the lawsuit was never seen by SHC while another was seen as SHC when Bach was not in Uganda.
The press release states that NCCL attorney David Gibbs III will be representing Bach in the lawsuit. Gibbs says the Ugandan government is supportive of SHC’s efforts to help malnourished children, describes the accusations as “nonsensical” and says they have been made by “reputational terrorists.”
“It’s sad when people spend their time attacking the good works of others,” he said.