For the past 14 years the Rally to Read programme has been taking literacy to those who need it most, and Land Rover has been a proud supporter since its inception in 1998. Initially implemented as an expedition to deliver stationery and reading matter to 12 rural schools, the organisers could not have foreseen the scale of their future success and the sheer number of learners they would enable. Well over R37 million has been raised and more than 650 schools are now part of the programme.
The premise of Rally to Read is a simple one – you need to be able to read and write in order to be educated. Recognising this, and the incredible need for a better education that exists in rural areas, sponsors join forces and enjoy the privilege of delivering the box libraries and other sponsored material to the schools.
Rally to Read has over the years visited many parts of our beautiful country – Golden Gate in the Free State, the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape, the Klein Karoo and many more – and this year the Underberg/Loteni area was the focus of the Southern KZN leg.
Our first stop was Enhlanhleni Combined School situated at the end of a long dirt road outside the town of Underberg. When we arrived it was still early morning, a scattering of snow on the mountain peaks around us, but the school had been ready for hours. Dancers and a band greeted our arrival, posters had been painted to welcome us, and parents, teachers and learners were all gathered in the small school’s grounds.
Pupils eagerly gathered around our Land Rovers, ferrying the library boxes, stationery and supplies to the front of the school. Fourteen teachers do an exceptional job educating 189 learners, and with some remarkable results. The principal, Mr Thokozani Maphumulo, led a prayer and then proudly told
us the story of Christian, a past pupil who has gone on to study Engineering at Wits after receiving no less than six distinctions in matric. “He achieved this coming from a school with very few facilities. We have a room that we call a laboratory, but inside it is empty. So imagine what we can do with all this! Imagine how many Christians we can produce!” said Mr Maphumulo, pointing out the boxes of teaching aids surrounding him.
As we looked around this rudimentary, frankly rundown facility we were humbled by the odds that are faced and the obstacles that are overcome on a daily basis. Teachers spoke of not having the tools to do their jobs, and the excitement with which the learners and their parents greeted every book, pen and ruler told of their own hardships.
Schools are visited by the Rally for three years in a row, each year supplying materials for a different grade or a different subject. Next year this school will be receiving science kits for that empty laboratory. The READ educational Trust, which works in conjunction with the Rally, visits the schools on an ongoing basis, training educators to get the best out of the supplied material and teaching them how to implement the curriculum effectively.
Each of the 10 legs of the Rally is broken into groups of about nine or ten vehicles, and each group visits two schools during the day. Our second school, Umqatsheni Primary, is in the hills of Lower Loteni, close to the border of Lesotho and miles away from the closest town. The roads are rough, facilities are basic, and yet the school and community’s spirit is unbelievable.
Once again we were welcomed by singing children and parents, and once again the principal, Mrs Marianne Mncwabe, led her school in prayer. She then told us of the difficulties that the teachers and parents had in getting school supplies. Not only do they battle to afford them, but the distance from the community to the nearest shop compounds their difficulties. Even in our comfortable 4×4’s the drive was difficult, and to cover the same distance every day, as the educators do, is nothing short of heroic.
Umqatsheni Primary is a small school, yet it caters for almost 200 scholars taught by 8 educators. And despite all the hardships, the school was wonderfully clean, the pupils were happy and the staff positive. “These materials are just what we need,” said Mrs Mncwabe. “With these books we can do our jobs and educate our children.”
A particularly moving moment for everyone involved was when Mike Morris handed over his sponsored library. Mike recently lost his wife, and decided to donate money in her name to celebrate her life and her love for children. As we sat there in the shadows of the mountain he opened one of the books and began to read to the children, and instantly they were silent.
Another moment was when a parent came to us with her analogy, “Education is like a three-legged cooking pot. The parents are one leg, the children are another, and the educators are the third. Rally to Read is the fire we need to start cooking.”
Umqatsheni Primary was also the recipient of the Land Rover sponsored Dreamfield soccer kit, a bag filled with boots, balls, shorts, socks and shirts – everything needed by a successful school soccer team. This received an even bigger cheer than the books and will hopefully play as important a role in the schools future. Dreamfields is an initiative that works together with the Department of Basic Education to help make weekly sport a vibrant part of school life. The goal is to create DreamLeagues across South Africa in a range of sports, starting with football.
South Africa is a country of great disparity, and nowhere is this more evident than in the field of education. Rally to Read is a sustainable project that allows businesses and the public to narrow this gap and to grow the future of our youth and ultimately our country. It is a project that has grown out of undeniable need, and one that touches so more lives than the teachers and learners it helps.