On the surface, Ifalethu Primary School and Groenkoring Primary Farm School have little in common. Ifalethu, with 38 teachers and more than 1,300 learners, is in an Mpumalanga village 11km from Hazyview and within a lion’s roar of the Kruger National Park. Groenkoring, with two teachers and 26 children, is on a farm outside the Free State dorp of Reitz.

Dig a little, however, and similarities start to emerge. Both are the result of an individual’s desire to uplift children. Groenkoring was created by the farm’s owner to provide schooling for the children of the farm labourers. Ifalethu was the creation of a shopkeeper who wanted the children of local subsistence farmers and cattle herders to have an education. Lessons began in his front room before locals built mud classrooms. Today the school is in "real" buildings in the village of Nyongane.

However, the biggest similarity between Ifalethu and Groenkoring is their pace of educational development. Both schools are part of the Rally to Read programme, which has a 21-year history of successfully fast-tracking literacy in rural schools.

Rally to Read, in which the FM is an organising partner, was born in 1998 in response to the rapidly deteriorating state of rural education in SA. The situation has improved in some areas, but many of SA’s farthest-flung primary schools must still cope with almost no national or provincial support.

Stuck in schools with few books or teaching materials, crammed into overcrowded classrooms, and often without access to electricity or even basic sanitation, millions of children have little hope of the future promised by politicians. Illiteracy sees to that. The average rural 14-year-old leaves primary school with a reading age of seven. He or she has no 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.

How? Through the generosity of FM readers and others. But don’t think we just want your money. We also want to share an offroad adventure with you.

Dates to diarise

The dates of the Mpumalanga Rally to Read have still to be confirmed. The dates of the others are:
• August 31: KwaZulu-Natal 1
• September 7-8: Free State
• September 14-15: KwaZulu-Natal 2
• October 12-13: Eastern Cape
• October 19-20: Western Cape

It costs R36,000 to be a full Rally to Read sponsor in 2019. Of that, 60% will buy educational materials, including portable classroom libraries, and 40% will pay for teacher training. If R36,000 is too much, some small companies club together as sponsors.

At no extra cost, we will take a sponsor and three guests to hand over goods personally. Our schools are located far from towns and tar roads in the Free State, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). So your weekend could be spent traversing wide-open or mountainous areas of SA you would usually never see.

Depending on distances, sponsors gather either Friday night or Saturday morning at a central point to load libraries, stationery and other materials into their vehicles. Then we set out early Saturday morning for the schools. Convoys split into smaller groups, each of which visits two schools, where children, parents and, sometimes, whole communities are waiting excitedly. The reception is never less than wildly enthusiastic.

Our first KZN rally is a one-day event, and participants drive home directly from the schools they visit. But on the others, participants gather on the Saturday evening at local accommodation — it may be a hotel, B&B or even a tented camp — to share their experiences over dinner. Everyone then heads home on Sunday morning.

Each school is supported for three years, and we encourage repeat sponsors to visit the same school each year to see the progress "their" children have made. 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 years are up, many of them can confidently progress to high school.

Meals and accommodation on these weekends 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.

For more information, or to become a sponsor, visit www.rallytoread.co.za