A new kind of amusement park in being planned in Uganda, to give children a much-needed break from their daily routine. Ferdi van den Bergh explains his vision for Africa’s first “social profit fun park.”
I first visited Uganda in 1999 and, after eight years running an after-school programme for inner city kids in New York, my wife Tatiana and I decided to move back there. After four months of volunteer work in Jinja Town, we became frustrated at the lack of any local park or playground facilities; somewhere we could take our own daughter.
After talking to our Ugandan friends we realised that there was a huge hole in the market for child-focused recreational activities, and that’s odd because 50% of Uganda’s population is younger than 15 years old. Within a 60-kilometre radius of Jinja Town alone there are around 800,000 children between the ages of 5 and 12.
Although they enjoy free primary school education, most of these children also help their families with domestic work. Before they go to school they help get water, they work hard at school, and then when they come home they help around the house or on the field. There seems to be a lot of work …and little play. There should be somewhere these children can go to be children, a place that brings fun into their lives. We hope that place will be Tjeko Fun Village.
The concept embodies the spirit of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. In simple terms this article states that every child has the right to rest, to engage in play and recreational activities, and to take part in artistic expressions.
These values have been brought to life as cartoon characters and park mascots designed by Big Picture Creations. Our key characters are Tjeko and Tjeka (Tjeko is the Swahili word for laughter and amusement), as well as Wasaa (leisure time), Anacheza (play), M-Chezo (game/match) and Dhania (imagine). We hope each of these friendly figures, and the sentiments behind them, will appeal to local children.
Tjeko Fun Village will be accessible to all children, regardless of their background. Tjeko is not a charity; it’s a social-profit business. A park that’s known for giving away free tickets looses its appeal. So families will have to pay to get in.The entrance fee will be the equivalent of 40 to 80 euro cents per child, and we will work closely with primary schools, orphanages and non-government organisations to ensure that even the poorest child can enjoy Tjeko Fun Village. Donors will also be able to sponsor tickets that local families can “earn” in exchange for work in the community.
But first we need to build the park, and find investors. Running any kind of attraction requires a great deal of money, resources and momentum. The African continent in particular seems a tough nut to crack when it comes to creating successful recreational attractions.
We intend to develop Tjeko Fun Village in three stages. The first stage will start in 2010/2011 with a mobile initiative called Tjeko Play Clinics. The plan is to tour schools, orphanages and village squares and offer children a day of fun on their doorstep. Here we can pilot different concepts, while building the Tjeko brand and raising awareness. Several parties have already agreed to donate “low-maintenance” attractions, such as inflatables.
When we have created enough momentum for a full time park, we will continue to stage two, knowing that chances of success are much higher. Then, once we have built the basic elements (a play village, theatre, restaurant) the challenge will be to sustain the park through its own income, and watch it grow. We hope to add extra attractions based on park income or sponsorship and perhaps one day find additional locations.
Tjeko Fun Village is looking for partners to assist us in reaching these goals (see below for more details). With your help, we can improve local children’s emotional, mental and physical well-being. Hopefully we can bring a little “Tjeko” into their life.
Industry professionals wanting to lend their support or expertise to Tjeko Fun Village can visit www.tjeko.info for more details. To raise the money needed for stage 1, a grid has been devised featuring “tickets” which are sold for €10 ($15) a piece. Companies can buy multiple tickets if they wish, and become a gold, platinum or diamond sponsor (100, 500 or 1,000 tickets). Once all the tickets are sold, 20,000 children will receive a visit from the Tjeko Play Clinic, which will raise further awareness of the Tjeko concept, ahead of the park’s anticipated construction in 2012. As well as direct financial contributions, the park’s developers are also seeking offers of help from those with experience developing or operating attractions.