Rally to Read. Picture: Supplied
Rally to Read. Picture: Supplied

For those who wonder about the true impact of the Rally to Read rural literacy programme, Mpumalanga primary school teacher Angel Manana has a message.

It’s not just the children who benefit from learning to read and write. Their family members regularly tell Manana how their lives have also been changed. "Stories of learners aiding their parents and grandparents with drafting letters, reading mail or performing other tasks reliant on literacy fill me with a pride rivalled only by how proud my own sons make me," she says.

Rally to Read has been transforming the lives of rural children, their families and their communities since 1998. Corporate and private sponsors, attracted by being able to meet the children and monitor their educational progress, have been enormously generous.

Covid has put paid to this personal contact, and to the weekend driving adventures that accompany it. Most tellingly, though, it has forced companies to budget less for corporate social responsibility. Rally to Read, like many programmes, is feeling the financial pinch.

That doesn’t mean organisers are abandoning it. Quite the opposite. Rural primary schools in five provinces — KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, the Free State and Mpumalanga — are due to receive classroom libraries, stationery and sports equipment in November for use in the 2022 academic year.

Trainers from the Read Educational Trust NGO will run teacher training programmes in these schools throughout the year and monitor children’s progress.

Though Rally to Read, in which the FM is an organising partner, has committed to helping these schools, it still needs sponsors. A full sponsorship of R36,000 will cover the costs of one school for a full year. Smaller sums will be gratefully accepted. So will donations of children’s books, which learners can take home to read.

To encourage sponsorship, the Jonsson Foundation, the education-based social investment arm of the Jonsson Workwear group, has promised to match, rand for rand, all donations up to a total of R700,000. It is also donating R340,000 towards a "stability fund" to cover unplanned costs.

The the Jonsson Group, through the personal intervention of CEO Nick Jonsson, has supported Rally to Read since its early days, initially as a sponsor, then as a rally host and finally as the programme’s lead partner. Last year the foundation made a R500,000 rand-for-rand-matched donation.

The need for donor support has never been greater. At the age of 14, when they are due to progress to high school, the average rural child in SA has a reading age of seven, rendering them unable to continue their education.

"It remains a reality that illiterate children cannot receive a formal education," says Brand Pretorius, Rally to Read co-founder and chair of its national organising committee.

Independent research shows that the Rally to Read programme bridges the reading gap. However, studies have also showed that in 2020 Covid-related lockdowns caused children at no-fee primary schools (many of them rural) across SA to lose 60% of school days and many of them to abandon the classroom permanently.

It is up to Rally to Read and its sponsors to slow that flow.

To learn more about Rally to Read, or to become a sponsor, visit rallytoread.org.za or contact Brand Pretorius at brand@brandpretorius.com

Upcoming deliveries

Despite the loss due to Covid of traditional delivery weekends, when dozens of sponsors and their families would deliver the libraries and other goods in person and socialise with community members, it is still possible for some sponsors to visit schools.

Deliveries to schools are scheduled over three weekends: KwaZulu-Natal on November 12; the Western and Eastern Cape on November 19; and the Free State and Mpumalanga on November 26.

The number of vehicles at each school will be limited to three, with no more than two people allowed per car.

Resources will be accepted by school principals and their management teams, with no ceremony or learner involvement.

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