The HBO documentary Savior Complex depicts a complex and important story, though ultimately the moral of the story is a multifaceted one. The three-part documentary series centers around a single narrative that highlights Renee Bach, a social activist and the founder of a non-profit organization, but at the same time, several other conflicting stories emerge that explore the concept of true activism, the impact of social media campaigns, and ethics in the medical field. Savior Complex depicts all kinds of positive and negative effects that could stem from one’s efforts to make a change for the better, leaving it entirely up to us to judge right or wrong.
Who Was Renee Bach?
Renee Bach was an activist and founder of Serving His Children, a Christian non-profit organization in Jinja, Uganda. Although she was not from a medical background and lacked the proper training to intervene medically, she was passionate about helping Ugandan children, especially those suffering from malnutrition. However, she was able to save many lives under the care of SHC and even hired Ugandan nurses and doctors. But despite the best of her efforts, she also had to witness the deaths of many. The deaths of children in her organization took a significant toll on her pursuit of activism. Several allegations were made that Renee was responsible for the deaths of over one hundred children due to her meddling in the treatment of children. The documentary showcases not only Renee’s efforts to make a difference in Ugandan life but also her blind faith, which led her to develop a “savior complex” and believe that only she could save the lives of the children.
What Was Renee Bach Accused Of?
Savior Complex introduces us to another activist organization called “No White Saviors,” led ironically by a white savior, Kelsey Nielsen, and her associate, Olivia Alaso, a black Ugandan woman. We are still confused as to what exactly their motto was, but it was seemingly about freeing Uganda from the mercy of the kind of white people who were there not to bring change but were mostly focused on portraying themselves as the ultimate saviors. They spoke out against Renee Bach’s overstepping in the medical field without having a proper degree or training. However, they had no evidence to support the statement that Renee was directly involved in the children’s deaths, but they ran a long campaign to establish Renee as an evil child killer. Many mothers who had lost their children also testified against Renee. Among them, Annette Kakai, who lost her child to tuberculosis, said that Renee, in a medical outfit, treated children with a stethoscope slung over her shoulder, which initially gave her the impression that Renee was a trained doctor.
Renee Bach definitely had a God complex. Coming from an evangelical background, Renee was a devotee who believed in the power of prayer beyond medical intervention. Although she was interested in helping people and learning to make IV channels, she was not quite interested in getting a proper medical degree. Even when a trained nurse and volunteer at Saving His Children, Jackie Kramlich, advised her about rechecking for health problems, accurately measuring vital signs, or reading diagnoses before prescribing treatment, Renee didn’t listen to her. She wanted to do things her own way; even some Ugandan doctors didn’t like her interference very much. Maybe it wasn’t Renee’s intention to cause these children to die, but she had a bit of an ego problem, believing that no one else could have treated a child better than her.
Leaving everything up to God is not really a very effective approach in medicine. It was highly unethical for non-medical staff to perform medical interventions. In the US, this can be a major crime, leading to one being imprisoned, so why not in Uganda? Why must Ugandan children receive the bare minimum treatment? It was uncertain whether Renee’s overstepping directly caused any deaths or whether it was just those who were unlucky who lost their lives in their overall medical regimen. But treating someone with no medical training is grossly unethical. A case was filed against Renee, who was found to have no health license at all for her NGO. However, Renee’s mother said that when their license expired, they were still given three months to renew it. Later, Renee, in her defense, said that she had always carried out any medical procedure under the supervision of doctors and trained nurses. Her mother, Lauri, also said the mortality rate even dropped from 14 to 11% at SHC. But no one knows exactly what happened in the absence of cameras. There were probably some children who were so sick that the amount of treatment available in Uganda at that time could not have saved them. However, since the death occurred under Renee and SHC’s supervision, Renee was held responsible.
However, as some mothers testified against Renee, others praised her and were grateful for her service that saved their children. For example, there was a child named Patricia who was given a blood transfusion under the emergency treatment recommended by Renee. Luckily, the baby survived and is now a preschooler living her life. Patricia’s mother refused to testify against Renee, claiming that she would be forever grateful to the woman.
What Happened To Kelsey Nielsen?
Savior Complex series shows some of the real faces of our so-called “social media activists,” including the real intention behind Kelsey Nielsen’s involvement in NGO work. She was accused of siphoning money from donor funds in “No White Saviors”. Once Kelsey’s hypocrisy was exposed, Olivia cut ties with her. Kelsey resigned from “No White Saviors,” which was now run only by black people. It amazes us how someone like Kelsey pointed the finger at Renee when her own character was deeply flawed. Ultimately, Renee reached a financial settlement after the lawsuit, offering compensation to the mothers who lost their children. SHC gave $9500 to each mother.
Justice was a murky concept here. The mothers accepted those funds, as they knew that no matter how hard they fought, their babies would never come back to life, so they demanded that Renee be held accountable for her actions. However, neither Renee nor SHC admitted that their actions directly caused the children’s deaths. Ultimately, an investigation conducted by the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council concluded that they could not charge Renee or the SHC for the deaths of one hundred children because they could find no evidence that Renee Bach had treated the children alone. The narrative ended there but left many questions unanswered. Jackie Kramlich, at the end of Savior Complex series, stated that Renee never held herself responsible for the unethical practices she engaged in at SHC, which Jackie witnessed from a very close contact. Savior Complex is a very complex story that shows the multifaceted nature of activism. At some point, it seemed that Renee was a true believer in quality health care for children, whereas, at other times, it seemed that she believed in nothing more than showing herself to be God’s representative.
Moreover, many conflicting ideas make Savior Complex series an engaging watch, which gives us room to think. Even with a confusing conclusion to the narrative, it makes us wonder who can be trusted. It makes us reflect on the plight of poor Ugandan mothers who haven’t had the privilege to think twice before trusting an organization and handing their children over to them. Lack of education and resources makes anyone vulnerable and desperate to seek help, so how will they know what is real treatment and what is not? Who is to say where those mothers can get their children treated? Savior Complex series speaks volumes, introduces us to the dark side of life and death, and takes us to those areas of Uganda where light has come through the darkness, but it seems to be fleeting.