Early start: In its 22 years of existence, Rally to Read has reached nearly 300,000 children. Picture: Rally to Read
Early start: In its 22 years of existence, Rally to Read has reached nearly 300,000 children. Picture: Rally to Read

The 2021 edition of Rally to Read is up and running. Ford Motor Co, which has hosted the Mpumalanga rally for the past two years, has confirmed it will underwrite it again next year.

Now there’s just the small matter of raising money for 2020. Rally to Read, like so many social investment programmes, has suffered catastrophically from Covid-19’s impact on corporate balance sheets. Many companies have slashed or suspended discretionary spending.

However, as people write off 2020 as a bad dream and look forward to what they hope will be a better 2021, it’s important to remember that many South Africans can’t wait that long for respite.

If Rally to Read misses its fundraising targets for this year, it could ruin the futures of thousands of SA children.

That’s no exaggeration. If the programme is unable to meet its educational commitments, previous efforts risk being wasted.

The programme, in which the FM is an organising partner, has been reviving failed rural primary schools since 1998. This failure is due to the historic inability of provincial education departments to properly manage or fund many of their more remote schools.

As a result, some lack not only educational materials such as books, paper and pens, but also electricity, proper toilets and even functional classrooms. Teachers, without the tools they are trained to use, are helpless, demotivated and often absent.

This can lead to one of the more poignant scenarios in modern SA: children arriving eagerly each morning in their school uniforms (which their families can barely afford) ready to learn, then sitting around until it’s time to go home because they can’t be taught.

By the time they are old enough for high school, many are illiterate and unable to continue their education. The average 14-year-old child in rural SA has a reading age of seven.

Rally to Read has been challenging this inevitability for 22 years, by providing schools with portable classroom libraries, stationery and other educational materials. In addition, through the Read Educational Trust, the programme also retrains and remotivates teachers, ensures the materials are used properly, and monitors the progress of every school.

The result: Rally to Read 14-year-olds have a reading age of 14 and can continue their education. Through the years, Rally to Read has transformed hundreds of schools and brought hope to nearly 300,000 children.

However, it takes three years of working with each school to bring them to this level. To halt this support one or two years into the programme risks undoing everything achieved so far. That’s why we are doing everything possible to protect these children’s futures.

In normal years, Rally to Read sponsors join organisers on weekend expeditions to deliver their goods in person and meet the children and communities they are supporting. This year, because of Covid-19, that is impossible. However, just because the children are out of sight does not mean they should be out of mind.

Rally to Read has cut its budgets significantly in 2020 to keep the programme going on a sustainable scale, but it still needs help to reach its fund-raising targets. Mpumalanga is safe, thanks to Ford. Shell SA has assured the continuation of one of the two KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) projects, around Pietermaritzburg. The Western Cape rally is on the verge of achieving its target. That leaves the Eastern Cape, Free State and a second KZN rally, in the Drakensberg. Money is coming in for all three, but there’s still some way to go.

In order to encourage support for these three rallies, Rally To Read’s lead partner, the Jonsson Foundation, has promised to match every new sponsorship rand-for-rand. In other words, if someone donates R10,000, the foundation — the charitable arm of the Jonsson Workwear group — will double it up to R20,000.

As SA emerges slowly from its Covid-19 nightmare, we need to remember that for many young South Africans, it’s a nightmare that, without the generosity of FM readers, could afflict them for the rest of their lives.

*For more information about Rally to Read or to become a sponsor, visit rallytoread.org.za

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