June 26, 2019; NBC News
Renee Bach, an American who started a health charity in Jinja, Uganda, is being sued by two mothers for allegedly impersonating a doctor and operating an unlicensed health center, which, they charge, led to the deaths of their children among many others, as reported by NBC.
Jinja is located on the shores of Lake Victoria and is Uganda’s second-largest city. It is also a hub for a significant number of the nation’s 13,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Understanding the density of NGOs in Jinja is important because so many of these NGOs are reliant on international Western volunteers for executing on work needed and raising funds to keep themselves going. Most often, these volunteers are young, in their late teens or early 20s. They’ve rarely traveled to continental Africa or Asia and lack complementary work experience. NPQ’s Tiny Spark podcast covered this complexity really well in “Orphanage Voluntourism.”
Bach was a voluntourist when she arrived in Uganda for the first time at the age of 18. She went on to found Serving His Children, a Christian religious charity, which over a 10-year period evolved to provide medical care. As reported in the Roanoke Star in 2010, Bach is quotes as saying, “Some people say I am so young and do not have the training to undertake such a mission, and they are right. Maybe someday the Lord will send a nurse to us, but right now He has me.”
Statements such as this bring into sharp focus the audacity and worldview of the Savior Complex. In this instance, it’s the White Savior Complex that most in the Global South constantly battle, and which Tiny Spark also covered. In May of this year, NPQ interviewed No White Saviors, an organization set up to challenge narratives that center white people as the heroes of the story. NWS has spoken openly about Bach’s organization on their website.
Images and blog posts written by Bach, now wiped from the Serving His Children website, were retained and copied by Women’s Probono Initiative (WPI), an organization that promotes women’s human rights in Uganda. They allege that Bach presented herself as a “medical doctor” and that her home was a “medical facility,” as she was often seen “wearing a white coat, a stethoscope and often administered medications to children in her care.”
In WPI’s press statement, Beatrice Kayaga, an officer at WPI, says, “There are procedural and regulatory mechanisms that ought to be followed when establishing a medical facility in Uganda. Even so the law provides for licensing agencies and protocols for who should practice medicine in Uganda. It is unacceptable, narcissistic behaviour, for any one, black or white, rich or poor, missionary or angel to pass off as a ‘medical practitioner’ when they are not. By doing so, they mislead unsuspecting vulnerable members of the public. The actions of Renee & SHC have caused so much pain, injustice, a lack of transparency and accountability by the organization Serving His Children. The Judiciary has a role to play in ending this.”
Bach’s own lawyer, David Gibbs III, responded to the allegations of the mothers and WPI in a manner that speaks directly to how organizations such SHC act with impunity. In a recent interview with CNN, he starts with, “First of all, we have to remember we are in Uganda, okay?” No, Mr. Gibbs, it is most definitely not okay.
Was this truly “serving His children”? No. The case is due to be heard in the high courts in Uganda.—Niduk D’souza