Four down, two to go. As Rally to Read enters the 2019 home straight, the rural schools programme still needs sponsors to help it over the finish line.

Corporate and private backers have already contributed more than R4m this year, but there is room for more as the programme prepares for two Cape rallies in October.

The Eastern Cape rally, on October 12, is a one-day event supporting schools in the East London hinterlands.

The following weekend, October 19-20, the Western Cape rally will support farm schools in the winelands around Tulbagh and Worcester. This will be a traditional weekend rally, starting with the loading of books and other educational resources on Friday. Saturday will be spent delivering these goods to schools, before sharing dinner with fellow sponsors and spending the night in local accommodation. Everyone heads home on Sunday morning.

Rally to Read, in which the FM is an organising partner, has been making a difference to rural primary schools since 1998, but it’s a never-ending fight to provide a decent education to children in remote areas. To describe these schools as under-resourced is often to trivialise the situation. Many lack basic materials, such as books, paper and stationery. In extreme cases, there are no desks, electricity or basic sanitation.

Dates to diarise

There are two Rally to Read events left this year:

• October 12 (single-day rally): Eastern Cape (inland from Kidd’s Beach); and

• October 19-20: Western Cape (Villiersdorp, Wolseley)

Illiteracy is rife. The average 14-year-old rural child has a reading age of seven, so has little hope of mastering books in high school. The drop-out rate is terrifying.

Rally to Read enables children to bridge the reading gap and progress to high school and even, in increasing numbers, to university. The formula is straightforward: give the children a chance to learn, retrain teachers to help them, and watch both groups flourish as a result.

That is exactly what Rally to Read sponsors do. What sets this programme apart is that sponsors see where their money goes and the effect it has. It costs R36,000 to be a corporate sponsor in 2019 and R18,000 to be a private sponsor.

Nearly two-thirds of that money is spent on portable classroom libraries packed with books chosen individually for each school, and the rest on teacher training.

Sponsors deliver their books in person over rally weekends, and meet the children and communities they are helping. If they stick with the programme for the three years each school is supported, they see the improvement in reading and writing skills, as well as pupils’ self-confidence. Each year, schools receive more advanced books.

What it means

Sponsors are still welcomed for the final two Rally to Read events of 2019

On the four rallies that have already taken place this year — two in KwaZulu-Natal and one each in Limpopo and the Free State — sponsors have been astonished by the progress of children in Rally to Read schools.

It costs nothing extra to join these weekend events. Corporate sponsors may send up to four people, and private sponsors up to two. Food and accommodation costs are met by our hosting partners.

All that the sponsors have to supply, apart from a change of clothing if it’s a weekend rally, is compassion — and a sense of adventure. Many Rally to Read schools are off the beaten track, so reaching them may require plenty of off-road driving. But it’s worth it. The welcome at Rally schools can be overwhelming, particularly when the whole community turns out to meet the visitors.

Rally to Read’s hosting partners are Mercedes-Benz SA, Ford Southern Africa, Shell SA, the OneLogix transport group and the Jonsson Foundation, the social investment arm of the Jonsson Workwear group. As host of two weekends and underwriter of some of the national programme’s costs, Jonsson is also Rally to Read’s lead partner.

For more information, or to become a sponsor, visit rallytoread.co.za or contact Brand Pretorius on brand@brandpretorius.com