The gentle but vibrant sound of marimbas, played by the Arts Programme students, welcomed us as we arrived to celebrate the life’s work of SAEP’s founder and tata, Norton Tennille. People of all ages and from all walks in life had gathered on a warm Saturday afternoon to send him into retirement (though we suspect he will rest but a little!) with speeches and embraces. The event began with an introduction to the bountiful buffet by Bulelani, one of SAEP’s earliest beneficiaries in Sinethemba High School in the 90s.

As we came to sit on the back lawn, the speeches began. Across the board the speakers relived their SAEP moments from its earliest beginnings, when Norton set off alone to conduct poetry appreciation sessions in Philippi schools, through the lean times when sessions were held in Jane and Norton’s home (mainly the kitchen) right up to the present day.

There was one central message, and this came not only from the Philippi beneficiaries, but from the SAEP staff (both South African and from elsewhere) as well as Norton himself: Gratitude. Whether it was the first cohort of the Bridging Year Beneficiaries to whom Norton answered their call, in the form of a letter in broken English (their words), or the current learner in Grade 10 who had been a Hope Scholar, they all spoke of the generosity of spirit, of time, and of knowledge and guidance.

It was inspiring to hear of those who had moved right through the high school programs, Bridging Year and the Tertiary Support Program, to then end up as a staff or board member at SAEP. And there were more than one! Norton’s legacy is not only a living, thriving organisation working out in the community, but much more than that. He has created an incredibly special family; one to which, it was obvious to me, the family members keep on coming back whether they need support or to make their own contribution.

There were many thanks offered, not the least to Helena (previous chair of the board) who had opened up her home for the event. When Norton himself gave us his “sermon” on Grace and Gratitude, there was barely a dry eye in the house. I’m not exaggerating, the man has touched people’s lives in such a profound way.

Article written by Susie Price.