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In Uganda, U.S. Missionary Accused of 105 Child Deaths Dissolves Charity

A charity founded by Renee Bach, an American missionary accused of causing the death of more than 100 children in Uganda, has been dissolved after running out of operational funds and settling out of court with two Ugandan mothers.

The NGO, Serving His Children, aimed to provide malnutrition care in the eastern districts of Uganda, including Jinja, Mayuge, Namutumba, Buikwe and Kamuli, was dissolved July 18. Bach came to Uganda to save kids from malnutrition at age 19 in 2010 as a homeschooled missionary, initially raising funds from her evangelical church in Virginia and then attracting a following through her blog in the American evangelical community.

According to an announcement in Uganda’s Sunday Vision on July 26 signed by Bach, the organization was dissolved because it could not continue functioning without operational funds. She said the NGO’s primary source of funding in the U.S. had shut down and would no longer be sending operational funds.

The announcement did not explain when and why the charity’s primary source of funding was shut down. The decision to dissolve the organization was taken by the board of directors. The announcement said the dissolution had come at the end of a six-month period that had been set out by the board of directors—beginning Jan. 10 of this year— to examine the feasibility of the organization’s continued operations based on available funding.

Serving His Children was popular in Uganda until recently when Bach was accused of causing the deaths of at least 105 children in her organization’s care. Former employees allege Bach performed medical procedures on the children, including blood transfusions, though she was not a medical doctor. The procedures were said to have resulted in fatalities over time.

Two of the mothers who lost children—Gimbo Zubeda and Annet Kakai—in January 2019 dragged Bach before the High Court in Jinja, Uganda, demanding compensation and the immediate closure of the clinic where Bach had performed the medical procedures.

Bach’s NGO had been treating needy children with severe acute malnutrition, and also offered health education along with a ministry of evangelization to local communities. Bach has denied all the accusations. Serving His Children also denies the allegations, though it admits that Bach regularly assisted in crisis situations, using skills purportedly learned from Ugandan healthcare professionals, and argues the children came to the organization already gravely malnourished and ill.

Zubeda lost a three-year-old son under Bach’s care. Kakai said she gave birth to her son, Elijah Benjamin, in January 2017 at Jinja Hospital, and that the boy was taken from her by Bach before he died under her care. Zubeda and Kakai both said that, until their children died unexpectedly, they weren’t aware or suspect that Bach was not a trained medical doctor. They said she dressed and behaved like one.

The case received international attention and for many, came to symbolize the so-called “white savior complex,” the idea that white Westerners are needed to rescue non-white people from social ills, often dismissing local aid efforts. Bach’s organization was previously operating unlicensed in 2011 and shut down by local authorities before becoming licensed in 2014.

The Women’s Probono Initiative (WPI), a non-governmental organization that represented the two mothers in court, welcomed the news of the charity closing its doors. Elizabeth Ochola, WPI’s legal officer, told Religion Unplugged that with the closure of the charity, the affected communities in eastern Uganda have a brighter future.

“Non-existence of the charity means there is hope for the vulnerable people in society,” she said. “This is the closure that the mothers have been demanding all along.”   

The mobile phone number listed by the charity in the newspaper announcement for individuals with any questions turned out to belong to the organization’s former country director, who told Religion Unplugged that he has nothing to do with the organization anymore.

“If you want anything about the organization, talk to Bach,” he told Religion Unplugged. “My phone number was just used on the advert because I once worked for the charity as its country director,” said the man, who declined to give his name.

The decision to dissolve Serving His Children was made a week before Bach reached an out-of- court settlement with Zubeda and Kakai. According to The Guardian online, without admitting liability, Bach and Serving His Children, agreed to pay each of the two mothers 35 million Ugandan Shilling (approx. $9,600).

Ochola also told Religion Unplugged that while Bach had refused to publicly apologize, as the plaintiffs had demanded, she did apologize to the two mothers during a mediation session on Zoom. Ochola added that the mothers are happy with the compensation and that one of them will use the money to buy a piece of land and relocate to start a new life.

Ochola said her organization is also pleased with the outcome because her organization got the justice they wanted for the mothers, prevailing in what she described as a tough battle to reach the out-of-court settlement. According to The Guardian, the parties mutually agreed not to pursue any further legal action against each other and to fully release any and all claims that might exist.

John Semakula

John Semakula is a Kampala-based correspondent for Religion Unplugged. He also reports for New Vision, Uganda’s leading daily newspaper.