The South African Education and Environment Project began in 1994 as a vision sparked between several committed learners at a township high-school and an environmental lawyer, Norton Tennille, who is passionate about education. SAEP’s culture still reflects the early days of the organisation where bright young people were invited into our founders’ home to dream and to learn together.

Norton Tennille, SAEP Founder, lives in Cape Town, South Africa. A former Rhodes Scholar, he practiced environmental and federal regulatory law in Washington, DC for 25 years before moving to Cape Town to establish SAEP in 1994. He is a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina and holds degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Harvard University, Oxford University, and Harvard Law School. He was a founding Director of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham and served on the General Alumni Board of UNC: Chapel Hill. During his career as an environmental lawyer he received numerous awards from environmental organizations and headed the Balliol College Alumni Association in the United States. Norton retired from SAEP in 2015.

Painting of Norton done by SAEP Arts Outreach students.

1994 – 1998
The Foundation and Environmental Years

The South African Education and Environment Project (SAEP) was founded as a US non-profit organisation by Norton Tennille, a US environmental lawyer, to promote environmentally sustainable development in the new South Africa through environmental education and advocacy. SAEP’s activities then focused on environmental awareness, nature conservation, improving urban environments, and environmental career opportunities

1998 – 2002
High School Education and Enrichment

The focus of SAEP’s work shifted as students at Sinethemba High School in the Cape Town township of Philippi began to ask for academic support in key subjects like biology, mathematics and English. SAEP also assisted in mentoring and coaching extra-curricular activities.

A Watershed Year

Jane Keen, current SAEP Director, joined SAEP full-time as a volunteer. At her initiative, a South African sister organisation for SAEP was created and registered as a South African NPO (and later as a Public Benefit Organisation). In programmes, there were four major developments:

At the end of 2002, as they were finishing their matric, Bulelani Futshane and Luzuko Hina asked SAEP to provide a “gap year” in which they and some of their classmates might improve their English, develop computer skills, and explore career alternatives. In return they offered to do community service. This was the beginning of what became our Bridging Year Programme.

SAEP extended its activities from Sinethemba to two other Philippi high schools.

Under the leadership of Jane Keen, SAEP began working with a cluster of 10 educare centres to help them improve infrastructure, develop financial and administrative skills, and register with the Departments of Social Development and Education.

The Environment Programme gained new structure and momentum from a partnership with the Mountain Club of South Africa, which began to lead monthly hikes on Table Mountain for SAEP’s high school students.

Arts Outreach Programme

Arts had been a part of SAEP’s high school programme in the form of poetry workshops since 2000, but in 2005 it became a programme in its own right under the leadership of volunteer Charne Lavery. Visual arts, drama, photography and film were added that year, and music and other activities in subsequent years.

Hope Scholars and ADT Programme

SAEP moved its high school academic support programme from Grades 11 and 12 to Grade 9 with the launch of the Hope Scholars Programme, a holistic tutoring and mentoring programme designed to begin in Grade 9 and follow the learners through Grade 12.

Launched the ADT teach Programme, a three-year computer training programme designed to provide township learners in three high schools with IT skills necessary for the job market and for tertiary studies.

Tertiary Support Programme

Tertiary support was provided on an ad hoc basis from the time that the first Bridging Year students applied and were accepted to university. It was formalised in 2010 to accommodate the increasing number of Bridging Year students who are studying at the tertiary level.

Impact Centre

Since 2006, SAEP had had a vision of creating a research and development hub or “think-and-do tank” but lacked funding for it. In 2011 it became a reality with a  three-year grant from the Lottery.

Career Connections

SAEP recognised the importance of academic and career counselling at an early stage, and began a formal programme when it cofounded Inkanyezi in collaboration with its UCT partner organisation TeachOut. In 2013, Kayin Scholtz, SAEP’s social worker who has experience and expertise in career counselling, developed this programme which has a focus on capacity building for high school Life Orientation teachers.

Strategic Planning and Continued Growth

SAEP reviewed the programmes and organisation and embarked on intensive strategic planning looking forward to 2018.