For the books: Studies show rapid strides in literacy at Rally schools. Picture: Mark Andrews
For the books: Studies show rapid strides in literacy at Rally schools. Picture: Mark Andrews

What do Mercedes-Benz, OneLogix/United Bulk, Momentum, Bidvest, Old Mutual, Porsche, Toyota, Shell and the SABC have in common? They are all committed to child education, and they all use Rally to Read to achieve their goals.

They are just the tip of the iceberg. Since Rally to Read started 20 years ago, hundreds of SA companies have supported its aim to improve rural education. In 2018, nearly 30 firms have so far signed up to take part.

But there’s room for more. Our KwaZulu-Natal rally is full and the Eastern Cape one is close to capacity, but those for the Free State and the Western Cape still have vacancies for our weekends away.

What do we mean by "vacancies"? Rally to Read, in which the FM is a partner, involves sponsors every step of the way. A R35,000 sponsorship buys two portable classroom libraries for a remote underprivileged school and pays for a year of teacher training by SA’s leading education NGO, the Read Educational Trust.

If you want a definition of underprivileged, come and find out for yourself what it looks like. At no extra cost up to four people may join us for a weekend of bundu bashing to visit schools, deliver libraries, meet the children and experience the reality of rural education.

Each school is supported for at least three years. If you continue your sponsorship, you can return to the school each year to see how the children are doing — not just in reading and writing but also in self-confidence. It takes only a little generosity and caring to turn timid, withdrawn children into outgoing boys and girls.

We also like them to be active — which is why the Eastern Cape-based Kempston transport group provides every Rally school with netballs and footballs. In past years, other sponsors have taken their support even further, providing stationery, science kits, computers and even management training for principals.

It’s this hands-on, inclusive approach that has helped Rally to Read thrive since 1998. It has even attracted foreign government support.

Independent studies have shown rapid strides in literacy at Rally schools.

One of the other attractions of the initiative is that no-one owns Rally to Read. Any firm may highlight its support, but none may claim the project as its property. It’s a co-operative effort between companies with a shared vision to eradicate child illiteracy. Fierce market competitors become team-mates for a weekend in pursuit of this common goal.

Rally to Read is run by a national organising committee. Some members have been involved from the start. The chair, who is also a co-founder, is Brand Pretorius, former CEO of the McCarthy group and now a director of companies.

Four rallies have been planned for 2018. The Free State rally, hosted by the OneLogix/United Bulk transport group, is on September 8-9 and will support primary schools around Reitz, Petrus Steyn and Tweeling.

On September 15-16, it’s the turn of Mercedes-Benz SA to take sponsors into the rural areas around Butterworth in the Eastern Cape.

The KwaZulu-Natal rally, hosted by Shell, is a one-day event on October 20. The Western Cape rally, on October 27-28, has no core host, but is supported by, among others, Old Mutual and the SABC. It will help schools in the winelands region near Robertson.

United Bulk and Mercedes-Benz have hosted weekends almost since the start of Rally To Read. Why? United Bulk MD Patrick Pols explains: "I attended my first rally in 2003 and have been hooked ever since. It’s not just the humbling effect it has had on me, my family and my colleagues; the weekends are a fabulous way of bonding with them, and even with clients. There’s also the fact that there are no administrative costs. Every sponsorship cent hits the intended target."

Typically, two-day rallies start at dawn on Saturday with the loading of educational materials onto sponsors’ vehicles. Participants then split into small groups, each of which visits two schools. Everyone meets up again that evening at local accommodation, usually a hotel. Dinner is spent sharing experiences, including feedback from each team on the day’s events.

Everyone leaves for home on Sunday morning.

For more information and details about how to become a sponsor, visit rallytoread.co.za

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