Millions of rural children in SA still have challenges obtaining a proper basic education. NAACAM is encouraging its members to support the Rally To Read sponsorship initiative. 

Rally to Read was founded in 1998 in response to the deteriorating state of rural education in SA where many of the farthest-flung primary schools must cope with a desperate lack of resources.

The average rural 14-year-old leaves primary school with a reading age of seven and will have little hope of coping with high school, so many drop out of education. Barely into their teens, their dreams are already over.

Rally to Read has made a huge difference to hundreds of schools. Literacy gaps have been bridged and children who would once have been forced to abandon education are now making their way in increasing numbers into high school and even university.

In those 22 years, the programme has made a difference to more than 1,600 schools, 12,000 teachers and 250,000 children. The change can be remarkable, as children not only improve reading and writing skills but also grow in self-confidence by the time the three-year sponsorship is up.

Rally to Read provides rural schools with educational materials, such as portable classroom libraries and stationery, then ensures the children and teachers are equipped to use them. The Read Educational Trust, Rally to Read’s NGO partner, provides teacher training and monitors literacy progress over the three years that each group of schools is supported.

Schools such as Ifalethu, in a village near Hazyview, and Groenkoring, on a farm outside Reitz in the Free State, are part of the Rally to Read programme. Groenkoring was founded by a farmer to provide schooling for the children of farm labourers. Ifalethu was the creation of a shopkeeper who wanted the children of local subsistence farmers and cattle herders to have an education.

It’s not just about putting in money. Rally To Read, in which the Financial Mail is among the organising partners, also want to share an offroad adventure with sponsors which will be reinstated next year. Up until the pandemic, convoys of offroad vehicles travelled to far-flung locations, taking sponsors to personally deliver the books and meet the children, families and communities benefiting from the programme.

The travel, under the guidance of experienced team leaders, is adventurous, and the reception at schools often overwhelming. In some cases, hundreds of people turn up to greet sponsors. The trips will begin again when the lockdown restrictions are lifted, but in the meantime, sponsors will be able to develop virtual relationships this year, through virtual tours and other online interactions with the schools and their learners. We fully intend to resume the full-scale Rally programme in 2021.

The weekends cost sponsors nothing, besides fuel. Meals and accommodation are provided through the generosity of host companies, each of which underwrites a rally. They are Mercedes-Benz SA, Shell, Ford Southern Africa, OneLogix and the Jonsson Foundation, Rally to Read’s lead partner.

The sponsorship cost is R36,000 per year for three years. Of that, 60% will buy educational materials, including portable classroom libraries, and 40% will pay for teacher training. If R36,000 is too much, companies may club together as sponsors. Alternatively, small companies or individual supporters may take out an R18,000 sponsorship.

If you’re nervous of committing for three years, sign up for one at first. History shows that once sponsors experience a weekend rally and see the impact of their generosity, they come back for more. A R36,000 sponsorship entitles you to send four people on a rally; for R18,000 you can send two.

This focused approach is possible because many of Rally to Read’s original organisers are still involved. Brand Pretorius, who founded the programme as CEO of the McCarthy group heads the steering committee, whose members include several other “veterans” from a range of industries. This experience ensures the programme sticks to what it does best.

For more information visit www.rallytoread.co.za or contact Lizelle Langford at the Read Educational Trust, on 087-237-7781.