The Athlone Institute Trust (AIT)

The Athlone Institute
1926 – 2006

The history of the Athlone Institute can be dividend into three phases:
•    Inception
•    Establishing educational facilities
•    Empowerment of our community

Prior to 1926 five churches in Paarl, each with their own primary school came together to address the problem of having no secondary school for their children. The churches appealed for Government for aid but were turned down. They therefore pooled their energy and resources, going so far as to montage their own properties in order to raise a bond for the much needed High School.

Establishing educational Facilities
In 1926 the Athlone Institute was thus constituted and a secondary and practising school was established. It was named after the then Governor-General of the Cape – The Earl of Athlone.

Students came to the school from as far a field as Mossel Bay, Upington and Namibia. So much so that the Athlone Institute had to address the growing demand by establishing a hostel residence in 1948, to accommodate their need.

In 1954, The Government accepted responsibility for the high school and purchased the original building. Today 80 years later this building houses the Noorder Paarl High School. The Athlone Board then built and established the Athlone Teachers Training School to cater or the L.P.T.C. and this later became a practising school for girls. In 1976 the school was upgraded to the ATHLONE COLLEGE OF EDUCATION. The Hostel became the present Manyano Centre.

In 1982 students protested against the deterioration of the inadequate buildings. The building was unfortunately gutted by fire in 1984. The Board considered abandoning the education sphere, but decided not to abdicate its responsibilities, and re-established, through the assistance of a loan of R3.7 million from Sanlam, an upgraded and enlarged facility.

In 1992 the Government chose to close the Teachers’ Training College and thus the buildings are presently utilised to accommodate the Frank Pietersen Music Centre.

The Athlone Board and its five member churches, namely Bethel United Congregational Church, The Parish of the Holy Trinity, Emmanuel Uniting Reformed Church, The Parish of St. Stephen and Zions Uniting Reformed Church have achieved amazing results against tremendous odds. Their “fearless and faithful” hard work, wisdom, determination serves educational and social needs of a politically deprived community.

The churches ensured ecumenicalism in practice by providing a Christian education that Paarl would not otherwise have enjoyed. Their high standards, commitment and courage were blessed and they came tot the position in 1997 of having more than fulfilled their initial mission.

After the closure of the college, the Athlone Institute found itself at a crossroad: should it sell the buildings, distribute the proceeds, or continue its 70-year mission? Dr. Franklin Sonn put it thus at the inaugural launch:

“The temptation must have been great to take the resources you built up so astutely – but no, you realised that what is more important than the resources you built up is how to use these resources to empower all our people to restore dignity, to built a bridge of unity with all the disadvantaged.”

During a scenario workshop by the Board, with the five Church Councils, on the future effectiveness of Athlone, it was agreed that the member churches were morally obliged to address community needs and that the ecumenical partnership of the Athlone Institute was the only vehicle through which these needs could be addressed.

On 17th June 1997, the Board of the Athlone Institute made the decision to register Trusts and act as funding agents for approved local Community project. The Athlone Institute Trusts, incorporating the Athlone Fund Trust and the Athlone Charitable Trust, thus came into being. The Board members, who remain autonomous and in control of all the funds, are the trustees.

Aims and Objectives
1.    To identify social needs within the disadvantaged community
2.    To initiate a process whereby the community takes ownership of addressing those needs that have been identified.
3.    To empower the community and enable it to take responsibility for its future
4.    To provide funding on a Diminishing Capitalization Method for a period of five years or until such time as the initiative becomes self-sustainable.
5.    To provide funding for the building of physical structures by means of interest-free loans.
6.    To provide bursaries to financially needy but academically deserving students at tertiary institutions.
7.    To provide funding to churches so that they are able to initiate poverty alleviation programmes within their own communities.

The Churches also receive funds for poverty alleviation programmes. Organisations, such as Luthanda AIDS project, Paarl Hospice and community project aimed at, inter alia, pre-primary schools, the aged and feeding the poor, have also received substantial assistance in addressing the needs of their beneficiaries.

At the present the AIT is managed by a Trust with two representatives from the member churches. The following served on the executive: A New Vision

We believe that South Africa as a non-racial democracy is still too young for us to be clear about a new welfare dispensation – hence the amount of time it takes to get things moving. The prevailing situation is historically disadvantaged communities and institutions continues to be of critical concern. Many institutions are caught up in a maze of inter-related problems and it requires courage to suggest a starting point for transformation.

In 2001 the Athlone Institute Trust (AIT) decided to revise its method of funding in support of the decision taken by Government to focus on poverty alleviation. This approach entails providing more money to fewer communist project and we believe that this approach would have a greater impact on the community. Furthermore, it is our non-fiction that if one wants to succeed in any poverty alleviation programs, it is imperative that the following component are in place:
1.    Active involvement if civil society
2.    We se ourselves as providing ‘seed’ and development money to kick-start these initiatives
3.    Involve Government agencies to provide stability and sustainability
4.    Engage outsider funders to become partners.

The Athlone Institute is committed to involving civil society in these programs through the churches. Projects aimed at poverty alleviation will be funded along the following criteria:
•    One project per year will be initiated
•    Funding will be based on a Diminishing Capitalisation Method over a five-year period.
•    The project will be monitored from inception and the Athlone Institute Trust will act as custodians.

In 2002 the Project Assessment Committee was established and the member churches and community informed of the new vision of the AIT. To this end the following project, assessed as addressing viable community needs, have been able to become established through seed funding as well as support and involvement of committed members of the AIT Board:
•    AIBPROF Athlone Institute Bursary Project Fund.
•    AHOS Athlone House of Strength
•    @Comlab
•    ATACOP (Athlone Trust and Allandale Correctional Project)

These project committees will report on their activities.

The Athlone Institute Trust is an excellent example of a disadvantaged community ravaged by apartheid legislation that has overcome the constraints and obstacles of segregation and prejudice. It is a splendid model of ecumenical co-operation.

Since the inception of the trusts more than R3,9 million was given to beneficiaries. The value of the Trusts stands at well over R17 million. One van only be thankful tot the Almighty for guiding the trustees in playing a vital role in empowering our own communities to relieve the pain of the destitute and disadvantaged.

Ebenhaeser – For to this point the Lord has helped us 1 Sam 7 v 12
Jehovah Jireh – In the mountain of the Lord it was provided Gen 22 v 14