Rally to Read is turning 20 — and its proud parents are celebrating with it. Co-founders Brand Pretorius and Pam Richardson head a new management team for the rural education programme which has brought literacy to hundreds of thousands of children in remote primary schools since 1998.

Also in the team, created following Bidvest’s decision to withdraw its management support after five years, are former Rally to Read organiser Iris Cupido and Patrick Pols, whose transport company, OneLogix, has hosted the Free State rally for nearly 20 years. The Financial Mail, which was an organising partner from 1999 to 2012, is back as well.

Rally to Read provides educational materials and teacher training to remote schools that are overlooked in stretched provincial education budgets. In many of these schools things others take for granted — like books, pens and desks — are absent. Without the necessary tools, teachers are helpless and children are condemned to lifelong illiteracy and, probably, unemployment.

Money raised by Rally to Read from private and corporate supporters buys portable classroom libraries as well as stationery, and funds teacher training. Each school is supported for three years — the minimum educationists say is needed for obtaining sustainable benefits. Independent studies have recorded remarkable improvements in reading and writing skills at these schools.

Teacher training and the monitoring of schools’ progress is provided by the Read Educational Trust, which has been involved in Rally to Read from the start. CEO Bertus Matthee is part of the new management team. The programme is endorsed not only by provincial education departments but also by national government, whose officials have used it as a case study for their own education planning.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is among the supporters who have joined us on past rallies. He said: "Rally to Read is an extraordinary story of caring, collaboration and hope."

What makes Rally to Read unique is that supporters personally distribute the materials they have bought. At no extra cost, they and their families or colleagues spend a weekend travelling in offroad convoys through remote parts of SA to deliver their goods in person. At schools they meet the children they will be helping, as well as parents and community leaders.

In its heyday, Rally to Read ran 10 rallies annually. Last year there were two. In 2018 there will be five, and there are plans to increase the number in future years.

Traditionally rallies begin painfully early on Saturday morning and end on Sunday afternoon. In 2018, however, we are experimenting with a new concept.

The KwaZulu-Natal rally, hosted by Shell, will be a one-day affair. Other rallies — in the Free State, the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape — are intended to follow traditional patterns: after the loading of books and other equipment on Saturday morning, convoys split into teams, each of which visits two schools. Teams meet again later at a central point for drinks and dinner, and to share experiences. After spending the night in local accommodation — usually a hotel — participants are invited to join an excursion before heading home. Past excursions have included mountain and sand-dune 4x4 experiences, walks and visits to local sights. All convoys are led by experienced offroad guides.

Three rally dates have been confirmed so far. OneLogix will host the Free State rally on September 8-9. Mercedes-Benz SA, a long-standing rally champion, will do the same for the Eastern Cape on September 15-16. The Western Cape rally will take place on October 27-28. Dates have still to be confirmed for Mpumalanga — which will be hosted by talent management and workforce solutions company Adcorp — and for KwaZulu-Natal.

It costs R35,000 to be a full Rally to Read sponsor in 2018. Every cent of that goes to the schools. There are no hidden administration bills. Weekend costs, such as food and accommodation, are covered by hosts and organisers.

Participants who don’t want to put their cars to the offroad test may hire vehicles at a special rate.

• For more details about the programme and how to take part, go to rallytoread.co.za