In 2019, Ford South Africa committed to supporting several disadvantaged primary schools in Mpumalanga for a period of three years as part of the company’s long-standing partnership with Rally to Read. This year Ford made a donation of almost R1.3 million for the final year of the three-year programme.
This will see the focus shifting to more independent reading libraries that will allow learners to read for leisure, to use reference material (such as the non-fiction books) and to improve their reading practice in the classroom. Both the foundation and intermediate phases of schooling will be targeted and the aim is to consolidate the skills that have been acquired over the previous two years.
The 2021 handover coincided with World Storytelling Day on March 22nd, which was this year aptly themed “New Beginnings”. In many respects, Rally to Read epitomises new beginnings for many disadvantaged primary school learners by bringing them the gift of literacy and the promise of a brighter future.
The Mpumalanga schools sponsored by FMCSA include: Mpunzana Primary School, Majika Primary School, Khombindlela Primary School, Ifalethu Primary School, Mhwayi Primary School, Mgwenyana Primary School, Umpololi Primary School, Siyamukela Primary School, and Entokozweni Primary School.
Founded in 1998, Rally to Read is a flagship programme of the READ Educational Trust, and is spearheaded by philanthropist and automotive industry doyen, Brand Pretorius. Ford’s involvement with Rally to Read dates back to 1999 and the company’s support for the schools in Mpumalanga started in 2019. Last year, in March, several Ford Ranger convoys set off to deliver boxes of books, teaching aids, and other educational material. As always, it was a humbling and gratifying experience for all involved.
“It’s an unfortunate truth that millions of children across the globe still don’t have access to proper education, mainly because of socio-economic and cultural factors. In South Africa this is particularly relevant in rural areas. The COVID-19 pandemic has had further devastating impacts, affecting not only school attendance in general, but also hampering the progression in the levels of literacy among learners,” says Carol Read, Acting CEO of READ Educational Trust.
Rally to Read has become a popular annual activity for many corporates including Ford. By going along on Rally weekends to distribute books and other educational materials to rural primary schools, there has historically been an opportunity to meet the children, teachers, parents and community members that benefit from the project.
“This is not some nameless, faceless CSR project,” says Neale Hill, MD of Ford South Africa. “Ask any of the companies and individuals who have supported and continue to support Rally to Read and they will tell you that they got to know the people they support. Better still, they have witnessed the joy created by what they do and how the children have grown because of it.”
Unfortunately, due to the prevailing COVID-19 situation, the Ford outreach to Mpumalanga was the only Rally to Read weekend of 2020. The remaining events were scheduled to occur between August and October. Considering that COVID-19 is likely to be a factor for the foreseeable future, the steering committee of Rally to Read took the difficult decision to cancel the traditional format, whereby sponsors travel and meet the children and parents.
However, it is of critical importance that the children who have come to rely on Rally to Read for their future aren’t abandoned. All schools scheduled to take part in the 2021 Rally to Read have already begun the three-year programme. To halt it now, risks wasting the efforts and resources already given and – more importantly – it would condemn the children to the illiteracy and loss of opportunity that were their future before Rally to Read came along.
Ford recognised the importance of continuing with the programme and thus this year’s handovers took place without the usual event formalities. Thanks to the company’s generous contribution schools will still receive educational materials, including portable classroom libraries, and teachers will continue to receive training from the READ Educational Trust.
Principals, teachers and parents of the participating schools agree that the Rally to Read programme has had an immense impact on learners. Not only has it improved their reading abilities, but in most cases, it has had a positive impact on their confidence and vocabulary too.
Further proof of the success of the programme, made possible by the generous donations from many South African companies and individuals, is the outstanding scholastic and post-matric achievements of some of the learners. This not only confirms that the project can make a vast difference in a child’s life, but it also inspires and motivates current school-goers to reach their full potential.
Schools are provided with books and so-called box libraries, which are supplemented with more advanced reading material each year. Teachers are also tutored on literacy and language methodologies by dedicated READ trainers, who monitor and mentor teachers and are, in turn, monitored and mentored by senior READ trainers. This is done in conjunction with the Department of Education’s subject advisers and school district offices. Thereafter, teachers receive training and READ field staff make regular visits to offer support.
As the programme progresses, teacher training and support focuses on ensuring that teachers are confident with the learning materials and the curriculum requirements. In 2021 the challenge of catching up on lost time and skills due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown regulations will be of critical importance. Grade R and Grade 4 pupils will receive special attention as they transition into formal learning and into another phase respectively.
“It is important for us to not only teach our children literacy skills in the classroom, but to ensure they have access to a variety of reading material outside of school hours. And this is what the Rally provides. By the end of the three-year Rally cycle, schools not only have box libraries filled with classroom resources, but also classrooms filled with independent readers,” Hill continues. “Ford believes in providing support to needy and disadvantaged communities and in creating opportunities for such communities to better themselves in order to ensure a brighter future for our youth. Our continued involvement with Rally to Read speaks to Ford’s core value of being a responsible and involved corporate citizen and it is a partnership we are extremely proud of.”
“With support from companies such as Ford, the contribution made towards education and literacy in South Africa can continue for years to come. Rally to Read is about much more than merely providing books. It also provides hope to the children, their families and their communities. And hope is something we desperately need in this country at the moment,” Carol Read concludes.