Bach, of Bedford, Virginia, ==WAS 20 WHEN SHE == moved to Jinja in 2009 as a Christian missionary and founded Serving His Children, a tax-exempt charity focused on fighting malnutrition.
A city of 72,000 people on the shores of Lake Victoria, Jinja has long been popular with U.S. missionaries and served as the backdrop for the 2013 bestseller, “Kisses From Katie,” a nonfiction book about a young American who traveled to Jinja and adopted 13 local children.
Malnutrition is a serious issue in Uganda, with some 2.2 million children under age 5 stunted and another 300,000 too thin for their height, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. And malnutrition is behind 45 percent of child deaths in the country.
Bach and SHC are now being sued in civil court in Uganda on behalf of two Ugandan women, Gimbo Zubeda and Kakai Annet. In court filings, their attorneys allege that Bach operated an illegal medical facility that led to the deaths of the women’s children and “hundreds” of others. The mothers’ case has been brought by the Women’s Probono Initiative, an advocacy group that provides women with free legal services.
According to court documents filed on the mothers’ behalf, the women didn’t find out that Bach lacked medical training until after Zubeda’s child, Tawali, and Annet’s child, Elijah, had died.
Their civil suit, filed with the High Court of Uganda in January, asks for damages and the closure of Serving His Children’s facility.
According to the lawsuit, Tawali died on July 16, 2013, and Elijah on Jan. 21, 2018.
In March, Bach filed a response with Jinja High Court, denying the allegations.
She and her lawyer, David Gibbs, say Serving His Children is not responsible for the deaths of Tawali and Elijah.
According to Bach’s lawyer, Elijah was turned away from SHC because he was not malnourished.
Not only that, Bach said during a telephone interview, the program referred his mother to the appropriate facility but she decided not to go.
“It was her choice,” Bach. “She chose to go home.”
“I imagine that as a parent, that she might feel some regret and that she’s looking for someone to blame. I would too,” she said, adding that she was very sorry for the loss of Annet’s child.
“But I don’t really have too much more to say to her, because we weren’t involved,” Bach said.
As for Zubeda’s son, Tawali, Bach said she was not in Uganda at the time he was treated.
“I never met him, I never met his mother. But I can say with confidence my heart breaks for her,” Bach said.
The group No White Saviors runs an Instagram account with 194,000 followers and tries to raise awareness about the negative impact many “mainly white” aid workers have had on “black and brown communities in the name of charity or mission work.” The activists have posted frequently about Bach’s case, citing the allegations as an example of the “white savior” complex — Westerners who move to poor countries to deliver aid even when they’re unqualified for the task.
In a written statement, Gibbs said that “reputational terrorists” were “attacking Renee Bach and Serving His Children with false allegations using the platform of social media.”
But former volunteers painted a different picture — one in which Bach sought an active role in treating sick children.
Ashley Laverty of Ottawa, Canada, said she began volunteering with Serving His Children in early 2010 after meeting Bach at a local church in Jinja.
At that time, Laverty says, the outreach was operated out of Bach’s home and consisted of serving lunch to local children twice a week.
But over time, according to Laverty, SHC’s focus shifted to providing medical care to seriously malnourished children — despite the fact that Bach had no medical training and the facility was not licensed to provide medical treatment.
“She started getting referrals from friends, about children suffering from malnutrition, so she would take them into their home and feed them a high-caloric milk called F-75,” Laverty said by phone from her home in Jinja.
As Bach garnered positive attention on social media, Laverty says, she began recruiting patients — going into the government-run children’s hospital in Jinja and “looking for the most severely sickly, dying children she could find, and convincing their mothers to run away with them.”
“She would meet them in the parking lot and take them to her center,” Laverty says, adding she eventually quit volunteering and ended her friendship with Bach.
Bach denied that she had ever recruited patients and said she only took in patients at the request of the local hospital.
However, SHC was not registered as a medical facility at this time. Documentation obtained by NBC News shows SHC registered locally as a community-based organization in 2010, and as an NGO in 2011. The NGO registration granted it permission to “carry out its activities in the fields of promoting evangelism, provide welfare for the needy, empower families and the needy with sustainable means of income.”
Bach said she believed her organization’s mission was broad enough to encompass both health care and education, and she was never advised to alter its registration.
Bach’s lawyer provided documentation showing the organization received an occupational health license in March 2014.
Laverty was not the only volunteer to voice concerns over Bach’s involvement in patient care.