The conversation the first episode raised has been so good. Check it out here.
This space is not intended to rehash all the details, to vilify or expunge, but to learn. So after all the episodes are out and even as we listen, we’re talking about practical takeaways.
A Ugandan news station report on the story on YouTube It seems quite disturbing that the Ugandan families continue to face problems from this case - not only dead, ill, or scarred children, but journalists, photographers, and the invasion of privacy, as outsiders try to capture the story. And, if we, the outsider, would only listen for a few minutes, just in this 17:00 clip, appropriate ways to behave and engage is obvious, like relying on village elders and listening to qualified medical professionals.
Again, for background, some key articles here: A Missionary On Trial, by Ariel Levy in The New Yorker and Protecting Whiteness At All Costs, an Open Letter to Ariel Levy and The New Yorker by No White Saviors on Medium.
Episode 2 37 Pounds: addresses the first death, a woman named Nabakooza, at the facility founded by Renee Bach.
Episode 3 Good Samaritan: Renee appears on Fox News to present her side of the story.
Episode 4 The Video: a disturbing look at what happened to one of the children in Renee’s care.
Again, I listened to the episode more than once. The first listen was to note my emotional response. The second was to take notes. The third was to put the two together.
This is tough stuff to listen to so many times but I take it seriously because I want to both understand and learn. Where could some of my own attitudes or behavior be implicated? Where do the topics raised cross into my life or sphere? How can I talk about these things, and do good better, ie grow as a human being on this planet?
Here are things that jumped out and questions I have.
How did Renee find Nabakooza and what or who gave her the authority to scoop up this woman and bring her to Kampala for medical care, and then her own center? I don’t ask that intending to get an actual, literal answer, but as we look at our own work and roles, who invites me to come into a situation? If I act authoritatively, where do I get that authority from and is it appropriate, or not?
Why do so many young, single, American women with little experience or education feel “called” to places like Jinja, or to set up their own organization? Where has the church, maybe, gone wrong in terms of the role of women in leadership, service, and ministry? Has a kind of narcissism been fostered, even encouraged in faith circles? Why are Westerners reticent to join existing, especially local, organizations? We could go on for weeks probably, about these questions.
This quote from Episode 2 is powerful and requires personal reflection, “I find it ironic how many of these relatively young, white American missionaries were ready to criticize each other but think of themselves as the one white person doing it right in Africa.” Do I ever find myself thinking like that? How can I learn to be more self-critical?
With so many aid organizations and feeding centers and women taking in children in Jinja, why are there still so many severely malnourished children? Meaning: these methods don’t seem to be providing any kind of longterm solution. If they aren’t working, why not? What needs to change? Why is this kind of aid and missionary work failing and how can it be done more effectively, or should it end?
There are three wildly different stories on how Nabakooza died in the second episode. Maybe in Renee’s arms, peacefully. Maybe after being jabbed with some kind of injection, gurgling, falling backward, and suddenly dying. Maybe surrounded by her family, loved and cared for. The journalist concludes that how she died isn’t the point. The point, she says, is who gets to tell the story and how they tell it. While I agree that who tells the story absolutely matters (and the family of the woman Renee knew for only a few days would be the obvious choice of who gets to tell the story), it also really does matter how this woman died. I don’t think source trumps truth. I doubt we can know the truth here, or if it matters that we, the voyeurs looking in, know it. But in general, I don’t feel comfortable saying that who tells a story is more important than the veracity of that story. Chide me if I’m wrong here.
Dang, I said this would be about episodes 2-4 but there is so much to cover and these are just my questions from the second episode!
I’ll stop now and see what the discussion brings up.
What do you think?
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I have lived in central Uganda for over 20 years now. I am a retired Registered Nurse with both hospital and public health backgrounds before moving to Uganda. Over the years the primary thing I have learned is that we must get to the roots of the “obvious” problems we encounter – and most often they are not the same thing as the “obvious” need. Uganda is deeply engrained in both dependency and corruption due to histories of wars, witchcraft and colonialism.
Two main things I noted in the podcast Episodes 2 – 4 were the fact it seems in Renee’s story that nothing was being done to eradicate the malnutrition problem of children. Just feeding them may save lives, but how do we get to the source of the malnutrition and change it? Thirty per cent of Uganda’s children suffer under-nutrition and that is largely due to the type of staple foods eaten. So agricultural and nutritional education are needed.
Also several times it’s mentioned that Renee raised huge amounts of money in support from her sad stories. Uganda consistently ranks second or third most corrupt nation in Africa (behind Nigeria and sometimes Burundi). So to me it is no surprise that Ugandans would notice that, desire to have a piece of her pie, and even likely be buying testimonies against her! Colonialism, racism, and all that come into play for sure, but the road runs both ways! As a white woman in Uganda I have 20+ years of being taken advantage of in so many ways for all the money that Ugandans think I have!
Too many NGOs come here and throw money at problems, especially the poverty problems, then go home and nothing has changed. Maybe things are even worse in the aftermath. NGOs may continue for years and build in more dependency (which often leads to more corruption!). We have to take time to dig to the roots of the poverty, disease, corruption, etc., and see what we can do to eradicate the causes. Sure, we can pay school fees for poor children. But what happens if instead we help their parents learn ways to make enough money to support their own families?
The Ugandan medical system is not only sadly lacking, it is even fraudulent in many ways. In teaching and training we must work within systems and help people to see how they will personally benefit from not only knowing Jesus, but also learning character from Him and the Bible.
I am doing some self reflection after both listening to this podcast and thinking about the 2 years I lived in South Minneapolis, in the very neighborhood where George Floyd was killed by a police officer 3 nights ago. I moved to that neighborhood as part of a program called Urban Homeworks that brought young people in to live in section 8 housing alongside people that could only afford to live there. We were supposed to be a Christian presence in those neighborhoods and sharing God's love. It was easy to think of ourselves as rescuers and 'good influences' in these neighborhoods. Definitely sharing a common thread with these stories. But what I learned most was how hard it was to live your whole life in these neighborhoods, how scared our families were to visit us, and how easy it was to compare and feel that I was the "only rich young person doing the right thing." Not excusing what I or Renee or anyone did at all, but rather recognizing once again myself in her story too. Enough for now.