Many a little makes a mickle

2014-12-02 10:43

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Some time in 1992, Ruda Landman watched Doreen Morris as she hosted the Miss World contest in South Africa.

Morris was the epitome of success with her excellent command of English, her sparkling personality and a red dress that captured the audience’s attention. She was in her late 20s and was utterly professional.

“I knew Doreen’s mother was a domestic worker from Elsie’s River,” says Landman.

In the years that followed, Landman met many other professionals who had made a mark in their workplaces – a top manager at Investec, an ophthalmologist from the then Natal – they all had mothers who were domestic workers.

A few of these domestic workers

were illiterate.

“I was constantly made aware of the new generation of young people who are becoming part of our society. These youngsters crave education, they are eager to learn because they know that knowledge is the only way you can rise above your circumstances.

“But there are two things always standing in their way: proper schooling and money.

“A year’s university fees at an institution like Wits or Stellenbosch costs R100?000 or more. There is no way these young people can afford that, no matter how eager they are to learn,” says Landman.

The state already provides assistance through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme with R9?billion that helps 430?000 students each year.

These students each receive a maximum of R60?000 a year.

“For many of these students, the gap between the maximum of R60?000 and the true cost, which is closer to R100?000, is just too much.

“Because they have no support network and don’t even have money to buy basic things like toiletries and clothes, the pressure is so great they simply cannot cope at university,” says Landman.

She realised she could no longer ignore this need and had to help.

Small amount, big difference

“This has really been in the back of my mind for a long time. But when I spent four months with my husband in Washington, DC, last year, the plan started taking shape.

“One night, we went out for a meal with two ex-South African friends, Hennie and Elna van Greuning. Elna told me about an organisation called Philanthropic Educational Organisation [],” says Landman.

The organisation was established in 1869 by seven women who each put some money together to enable another woman to go to university.

It was a small and humble beginning.

Now, nearly 150 years later, the organisation has 250?000 members from across the US and Canada.

The members of the branches meet once a month for coffee and cake, and listen to a talk. Each of these women gives $50 (R550) a year to the fund.

Although this small amount does not have an impact on the lives of any of the women, all the contributions combined make a huge difference.

A total of $12.5?million is collected by the fund annually.

In 1927, the women built their own university. They now have five different support programmes, with some offering student loans and grants. The programmes cater for the different needs of undergraduates and postgraduates.

“It made me think that something like this could work here too. Almost all the women I know are members of a book club. And if we can start a network where each of these members donates the price of one book a year for a study fund in our country, we can start making a tremendous difference,” says Landman.

“The price of a book is about R250 these days. If only 4?000 people each donate R250, they will have collected R1?million.

“People who love books and reading understand the importance of knowledge and education. And we don’t just want to approach book clubs for this project, but all South Africans who love reading.

“This is how the concept of Readers Unite began. If a lot of people who love reading just donate the price of one book to a study fund, we can help thousands of students.

“If you love reading, you know the value of knowledge. We know what knowledge means in our own lives, so we also know what it can mean for the next generation,” says Landman.Book clubs can nominate candidates, and they will be given preference if they meet the above criteria

How to participate:

Go the the website and click on DONATE to become part of this network.You can also follow their activities on their Facebook page: Ruda Landman’s Readers Unite.

If you want to make an EFT deposit, go to Study Trust, Absa, branch code 335105 (Auckland Park), account number: 2840800299; reference: RU + your surname.

This project has been going for about a month and already R20?000 has been raised.

Students get money and mentoring

Readers Unite supporters will help students who require additional financial assistance to complete their studies successfully, but they also plan to provide mentoring with time management, financial literacy and how to work with their budget.“Very few of these students have ever picked up a book and just read it for pleasure.

“With my personal mentoring, I really want to introduce them to that enjoyment. We can help students to start their own book clubs,” said Ruda.

Unlike the American project, the criteria for qualifying students is not that only women are allowed, but any students who need financial assistance when they study for a degree at a university. The student must excel academically and be strong enough to cope with the demands of university teaching.

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