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READ Transforms Rural Villages

Over seven million South African learners lack basic literacy skills.This shocking figure comes from the Read Education and Development (READ), a project which, over a five-year period, has trained 13 914 teachers in 896 schools directly benefiting 800 000 learners with classroom resources and improved teacher competence.READ is endorsed by the Department of Education.

Its aim is to accelerate the listening, speaking, reading writing, and comprehension skills of learners in all schools throughout Gauteng. The non-government organisation has grown over the years and is now operational in 1 600 schools which constitutes 7% of schools nationally.The 1976 Soweto school uprisings gave birth to the Read Education Trust when students demanded better school, library, and reading facilities.  At the time, only one of the Soweto high schools had books in their library. 

Over and above providing books, READ made a significant impact on redressing desperately under-resourced classrooms of the late 1980s as well as creating a market demand for quality books and teacher training. A school which is a shining example of READ's success in partnership with the private sector is Botlhale School  in North West's remote Kortloof village.

With only 10% of Grade 6 students in traditionally black schools being literate, the 354 pupils and teachers at Botlhale consider receiving a READ sponsorship 'miraculous'.In distance, it's mere hours from Johannesburg but in lifestyle, it's light years away. 

Kortloof is a sub-village of Pella, which is a sub-village of what was once named Zeerust.Here live 150 families in hastily-assembled huts and shacks scattered at the bottom of the surrounding hills sloping shoulders.  Many two-roomed dwellings house up to 13 people.The donkey forms a vital role in the sustenance of the community and is used to carry firewood and as a form of transport. Donkey carts carry sick to the make-shift clinic and elders to Groot Marico where they queue for their pension, which all-too-often doesn't arrive.For some, like dedicated teacher Sina Modikwe who heads the orphanage section of the school, it's a daily trek of more than 20 kilometres to and from school each evening.Modikwe is passionate about adopting 15 year-old Magrieta Methobi, one of six children her grandmother has to care for.

Methobi's mother deserted her at birth. She is one of 13, including uncles and aunts, living on the old woman's pension in a two-roomed mud hut.The prospect of being adopted, as well as receiving a proper education, gives Methobi hope.She says: "They always help us at this school. They give us food a uniform and shoes.  I will stay with Sina happily because now it's not healthy and it's not fine at home. I will learn so when I finish school I can work in an office making ID documents for others. I know I am nothing because I don't have a birth certificate."On this morning, every last member of the Kortloof community are gathered in the blistering heat to celebrate Botlhale School's Hollard sponsorship and the gift of a new fully-equipped modern school building, complete with a computer room.

Additionally, Botlhale School has something hitherto unheard of - a separate staff room.Headmaster Sam Motlhabane hands over the keys to the building saying: "In the mighty name of my Lord and Savior let me open this new school."The clapping, singing and roaring takes several minutes to subside.For the emotional headmaster, whose entire life revolves around educating school children, this turn of events exceeds even his wildest expectations."We started our school 10 years ago under the trees before we got one room that now serves as a crèche. We didn't have enough books for learners.  They had to take turns to practice their reading from books we received as donations from other local schools and the Department of Education.  We even went as far as asking the library of Bopututswana for books. Then out of the blue, the McCarthy organisation sponsored READ and they trained our teachers for a few weeks," said Motlhabane.

McCarthys encourages other organisations to sponsor READ books and training programs for specific school. The books provided by READ are then personally delivered by the sponsor organisations during an annual event known as the Rally to Read, Hollard, as one of the sponsors, visited three schools the year that Bothlale joined the program.Nic Kohler, head of Hollard's Personal Financial Solutions Section, took the trip to the school. From the moment he laid eyes on the pupils and close-knit society, the project took on a new life of it's own.  Botlhale School turned into a communal undertaking. School and village were transformed.Kohler says: "The headmaster and teachers' enthusiasm had a huge impact on me.  They were making the most of the opportunity being provided to them. 

I realised the potential READ had to lift the kids out of the poverty trap they found themselves in."Kohler thought long and hard.  Being a community of children and elders, Koortloof is not encouraging self- development unless the children, grandparents, teachers, headmaster, the priest as well as the villagers, participate in the schooling project."Previously people were leaving high school with the literacy capacity of a standard 4 pupil.  What chance could those children ever have of getting a job, a future, decent health care given how remote the school is?  It was unlikely to obtain assistance from anywhere else. 

Through the closely-monitored READ project, these kids will get the opportunity to get a proper education and go further in life ," he said.Kohler inspired 300 Hollard PFS staff members, and rung on the ladder of corporate hierarchy to get involved with the Botlhale School. Soon they were organising sports days at the school, a Christmas party and graduation photos. The Hollard 'community' undertook various fundraising activities with golf days, raffles, and donation boxes dotted round their Parktown headquarters.Instead of imposing their own views upon the village, Hollard requested input from residents at every turn.Grandfathers were skill trained and employed to build the school and ablution facilities. Security was arranged, books were collected.

Computers, clothes, food, and water bottles for every child were donated - this last item being essential because of the long distance the learners have to walk on the dusty paths to find a tap.Next, was the now huge, organic vegetable garden which is the pride and joy of four trained voluntary gardeners.  The transfer of skills was flawless.  Under head gardener Joseph Sello Mogale and four assistants, the produce is sold at markets during school holidays.

During the week, pupils receive a nourishing meal at lunchtime.  For many, it's the only meal they get over a 24 hour period. Word spread and several children asked to be transferred to Botlhale School from other districts.Bridget Mpambane (14) who travels from Pella every day, says, "I came here when the other kids told me there were lots of books and there were going to be 11 proper classrooms.  I don't mind traveling the distance 'cause I feel I am the happiest kid in the whole wide world. It's wonderful to have a proper school with books.  I read in the library every break.  I am supposed to leave this school next year and go to another school in Pella village until matric.  I don't want to go there because we may not have books at the other school. And I want to study to be a scientist and learn more about the world I live in.

"By a strange twist of symbiosis teacher, Sinda Modikwe's son Tumi, is now employed in Hollards' Department of Finance.Kohler says, "Our involvement with Botlhale is going to be on an on-going basis. Essentially we want this to be a model of engagement with schools. Ideally, hundreds of other companies will do likewise with other struggling schools and we will then have a real impact on the destiny of the country. Personal engagement is vital. The cause of education in South Africa is vital. It's the key to economic upliftment of many South Africans.

Written by Lana Jacobson for The Star Verve


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