When African-American, Carlos Thornton, 40, came to Ethiopia in 2005, he saw an opportunity to begin a new trend for children – summer camps. Albeit not the same as summer camps found in other countries around the world, that was the start of the Ethiopian summer holiday camp experience.
“There was no competition when I got into the business,” said Thornton, who claims that he was the first to begin the summer camp business, at least in an organised fashion.
“But now that most people are aware of it, more summer camps are emerging,” he added.
These days, summer camps are becoming ubiquitous with ads and banners being put up in different locations around the city.
But Thornton, also known as Coach Carlos, does not view them as competition. Rather, he believes that it was his motivation that brought about the status quo.
Currently, Thornton conducts summer camps at three different locations in Addis Abeba, namely, Rock Bottom, located in Wolo Sefer; Menelik II Preparatory School, located in Arat Kilo and Young Roots English School, located around CMC.
What makes these summer camps different is the fact that the children that participate do not stay in residence for the duration of the programme.
Rather, it is more like a place for them to spend the day – day camps. Typically, the summer camps last about a week or two and incorporate a range of activities ranging from academics to sports. Food is not a part of the package and the participants come with allowances from their parents or legal guardians to purchase food delivered from select places or they can bring their own lunch boxes.
Currently, there are a number of options for parents interested in sending their children to summer camps. But the road to success was not an easy one as Thornton shared.
“As an American citizen and resident in Addis, I was required to have capital of 50,000 dollars for an investment licence,” Thornton told Fortune.
By contrast, initial capital of 200,000 dollars is required for the same business in the United States so Addis Abeba was a much cheaper place for him to create his dream of a branded summer camp.
Thornton originally intended investing about 65,000 dollars but later settled on 15,000 dollars, he says.
Another summer camp provider is Enani Zena, who has taken the initiative to organise a summer tour for children that are above the age of 7. Her campers have toured Anbessa Gibi (lion zoo) and visited Bora, an amusement park for children, between 7 and 10. And those who are above 11 have toured the historical buildings at Entoto Mountain. They also visited the geological museum at the Addis Abeba University.
Enani wants to take the business to the next level and organise a real camp where kids will go out of town and do actual nature camping.
“I am facing a lot of difficulties in running this business. I did not get any insurance coverage in case of any emergency, so I think it is better to organise such summer camps under the auspices of specific schools so that parents’ trust for the safety of their children will be earned,” she told Fortune.
Tessfaye Wonde is a former teacher who now organises summer camps at Club Juventus. He has been doing this for the past two years and came to Club Juventus after having worked as an organiser at Lafto Mall.
At Club Juventus, they have a different package that combines fun with serious learning activity.
“Our programme has an academic aspect, physical activity and social skills. The Physics camp, Mathematics camp, reading circle, essay writing, public speaking and especially the curtailed sessions for those preparing for the Standard Aptitude Test (SAT) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exams makes it unique in the business,” said Tesfaye.
Kids love the opportunity to spend their summer in a fun area while still hanging out with their friends, he added.
Club Juventus spent around 400,000 Br for this year’s summer camp, which they said they spent on materials needed and the salaries of all 25 staff members. They have 220 students registered for this year’s summer camp, which includes different activities. Each child pays 4,875 Br for the whole two-month experience.
On the other hand, Thornton’s summer camp has a price tag of 1,500 Br for the half-day package and 2,000 Br for the full-day package. This includes a jersey, T-shirts, a movie on how to play basketball and a rap CD by Thornton. After covering the costs, Thornton gets a net profit of 500 Br per student.
As one of Coach Carlos’ summer camp students, Hamid Elias, 14, said that this is one of the best summer camps he has ever been in.
“After I saw a flier that my mom brought home, I could not wait to join the summer camp. I joined in last year and I saw in my basketball skills change dramatically. The price is also affordable,” Hamid told Fortune.
Thornton’s summer camp also lasts two months and one has to pay for the entire two months. For this summer, Thornton has 150 participants registered. This is in keeping with his average of 150-200 kids every summer.
The business is now so common that such places as Hilton, Lafto Mall, Juventus, Rock Bottom and some schools are renting out space for percentage shares from the registration fees or organising summer camps of their own.
The places that are used for the summer camp venues take a percentage of the profits but were not willing to disclose the sum.
Tibelets Beyene, a parent, said that summer camp programmes are nice both for the parents and the children. Instead of your children being at home for the whole summer, they get to do different activities and practice their hobbies, she said.
“My kids are happy and I see a difference in their dancing and sports skills,” she commented with satisfaction.
Despite the increasing number of summer camps, Coach Carlos still does not seem to be troubled by the competition.
“I see the competition as me motivating others to create the same opportunity and to make the community better as I did for my students,” he said.
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