Some communities make a song and dance about Rally to Read. In others it’s more low-key. Picture: SUPPLIED
Some communities make a song and dance about Rally to Read. In others it’s more low-key. Picture: SUPPLIED

As the last Rally to Read sponsors prepared to leave the tiny farm school in the Cape winelands, they heard the sound of sobbing from one of the rooms. Knocking on the door, they went in and found the principal dabbing her eyes, trying to stem the tears.

Why was she crying, they asked. Had their visit somehow offended her?

Quite the opposite.

"In all the years we’ve been here, we thought no-one cared," she said. "But you care. It means everything to us."

The impact of Rally to Read on remote rural schools around SA has been extraordinary. For those who want to experience this, there are two more opportunities in 2018. On October 27-28, sponsors will be back in the winelands, delivering educational materials to 12 farm schools around Villiersdorp, Worcester and Wolseley.

The following weekend, November 3-4, it will be the turn of the Eastern Cape, with disadvantaged schools near Butterworth in the former Transkei receiving support.

Picture: SUPPLIED
Picture: SUPPLIED

There is a small number of vacancies left for both weekends. Another rally, a one-day event in KwaZulu-Natal on October 20, is already full.

Since 1998, Rally to Read, of which the FM is an organising partner, has assisted remote rural schools that receive limited support from provincial and national education budgets, which are already stretched to breaking point by urban school demands. In many cases, that means no reading or writing books, stationery, or even desks. Without tools to teach, teachers are helpless. A typical rural child leaves school at 16 with a reading age of nine.

The purpose of Rally to Read is to revive education in these schools. Every selected school is supported for three years with educational materials and teacher training, which is provided by the Read Educational Trust. Independent research shows that the literacy gap closes quickly at Rally schools.

You don’t have to take organisers’ word for that. On Rally to Read weekends, sponsors deliver their goods in person and see for themselves the effect of their generosity. It costs R35,000 to be a sponsor in 2018. About 40% goes to teacher training, and the rest to buying portable classroom libraries containing books selected individually for each school.

Weekends start early on Saturday with the loading of libraries and other goods on to sponsors’ vehicles. For the Western Cape the loading point is Bellville, and for the Eastern Cape, East London.

Convoys then head towards the regions where schools are located. Before arriving, they split up into smaller groups, each of which visits two schools. This allows time to interact with children, teachers and parents. This is a big day in the life of the community, and the reception usually mirrors this. In some cases, hundreds of people turn up for the occasion.

There is a serious lack of resources in the schools we support, but it’s very heartening to see the impact of what we do
Bertus Matthee

Once handovers are complete, groups meet up again at local accommodation — it may be a hotel or guesthouses — and the evening is spent sharing experiences and feedback over dinner. On Sunday morning, it’s time to head home. The cost of food and accommodation is covered by the rally hosts: the Jonsson Foundation in the Western Cape and Mercedes-Benz SA in the Eastern Cape.

The only additional cost for sponsors — and it’s an optional one — is vehicle hire. Parts of the route are offroad and we can never guarantee conditions. However, our partners are able to provide vehicles at preferential rates.

Rally to Read organisers already have one event under their belt this year. In September, the Free State event took sponsors to schools around Reitz, Petrus Steyn and Tweeling. Read Educational Trust national director Bertus Matthee says: "The rally showed once again the huge disparity between urban and rural schools. There is a serious lack of resources in the schools we support, but it’s very heartening to see the impact of what we do."

Nowhere was this more evident than at the Saturday night dinner, where sponsors met local pupil Patience Mokoena. When Rally to Read first visited her impoverished rural school a few years ago, she spoke only Sesotho and had a bleak future. Thanks to sponsors’ intervention, she is now a successful high school student, a national Afrikaans public-speaking champion and destined for university.

For more information on Rally to Read, or to become a sponsor, visit rallytoread.co.za