Local waitress Courtney Thompson has just returned home from her third trip to Uganda . Thompson works for Kyampisi Child Care Ministry in the Ugandan schools as a counselor and spends most of her time with children. Thompson sees herself as a communitarian who has been called to help and make relationships with the people of Uganda.
“The primary purpose of my trips is because I am a Christian, and I go to help out the people who God has placed in my heart,” Thompson said. “I’m really just loving on people, and I think that’s what best fits my experiences.”
Thompson was surprised by how contemporary the cities of Uganda were on her first trip. “It’s a lot different from what we think as Westerners,” Thompson said. “When I first went there, I thought it was going to be horrible. I thought they were going to be walking around with spears and loin cloths. But it’s pretty modern. Everyone walks around with a cellphone.”
The 23-year-old took her first trip in July 2011. She accompanied her brother, Cameron Thompson, in a discipleship program that began in July. They left for eastern Africa in October.
“My brother was going right after high school,” Thompson said. “I was in Reno, and I kind of didn’t know what I was doing with my life. … Just going with the flow and taking all these classes that didn’t mean anything to me. So my dad said that I need to get my act together. He said he was going to send me to Africa, and I thought, ‘Well that’s a little extreme.’ ”
The siblings attended three months of Bible college and set off for their five-month mission. The program was arranged to reside in an orphanage for the duration of their trip. Aside from her first trip to Uganda in 2011, Thompson said the purpose of her trips is not to convert the Ugandans to Christianity.
“My first trip we did a vacation Bible school for the kids and some outreaches for teens,” she said. “But my other trips have not been aimed as missions. When people think missions they think just ‘church stuff.’ But I’ve done a lot more things, like a mix between communitarian and church things. I’m not going over there to convert people to Christianity. I want to make relationships and that is the most important thing.”
Thompson’s faith drives her charity work in Uganda. Although she is not converting the people, she likes to share her beliefs with the Ugandans when given the opportunity. “This last trip we went and took out ‘jiggers,’ ” Thompson said, “which is a sand-flee that burrows in kids feet. If they asked us why we were doing it, we would tell them ‘because Jesus loves you,’ or something like that.”
Thompson has been working at the Boulder Dam Brew Pub since its opening in 2007. Working at the pub has helped her save for Uganda trips, along with some help from her family.
“I have some family members who are really generous and some people from my church help me finance my trips,” Thompson said. “This last trip I had a fundraiser at the pub and I sold T-shirts. A lot of it comes from my own money, and saving my tips from work.”
One of Thompson’s financial goals for Uganda is to build a house for a child she sponsors. Building the house will cost $10,000.
“There are a few things I’d like to do,” Thompson said, “like build my sponsor child a house. Building something yourself is better than handing them money and telling them to go build something.”
Thompson went to Uganda alone for 12 days in August 2012. Her latest trip she was accompanied by her mother, King fifth-grade teacher Melissa Combs, from July 9-30. She plans to wait until she graduates from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before returning to Uganda.
“I have to finish school,” Thompson said. “I only have one more year left. I want to go back for a long-term trip. I think I want to go back for six months after school … it just depends if I get the finances.”
Although the cities in Uganda are fairly modern, the villages suffer poverty, according to Thompson.
“There’s so much need. As Westerners we have to be careful because they do look at us like we have a lot of money, and they know we have more than them. They are always asking ‘Can I have this? Can I have this?’ ”
One challenge Thompson faces in Uganda is knowing how much she can help the people.
“There’s a fine line of how much you can really do,” Thompson said, “because you can’t just hand out money. It’s really hard to hand out material items, like clothes and shoes, because they turn around and sell them for more money. That’s really what I’ve been learning, especially in my last trip, is what you can do to help that can sustain them to live in their country, and not try to live off of us.”
Although there are many hardships with traveling abroad, Thompson said the children of Uganda are what make it worthwhile.
“The children are the best part of the trips,” Thompson said. “They have so much joy. I feel like I have joy when I have money and all these things. They have nothing and yet they are joyful. They just love you. They just love with no boundaries. Africa just steals your heart.”
Thompson hopes to bring her friends and family to Uganda in the future.
“I think anyone could do it, Thompson said. “I would love to take people. It’s beautiful and they just love you for who you are.”
The traveler hopes to spread the word of Christianity and the act of charity all over the world, and to inspire people to do the same. “I’m really not doing much. I’m just loving on people whether they’re here or across the world. If they want to praise anyone, they should praise God, not me. When people say ‘I wish there were more people like you,’ I want to say ‘You can be the people!’ ”
Courtney Thompson keeps her savings account at the Boulder Dam Credit Union open to those who would like to donate to her future Uganda trips. “I am always at the pub, so people can just swing by and talk to me as well.”