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Learning to make a difference

Roslynne Toerien, her three children and their golden retriever, love the power of stories, creating adventures, making memories and helping others. This Durban North mom’s own story is one of grit, determination and collaboration.

A bubbly, highly motivated, determined, big dreamer and faith-filled woman, Ros is proudly South African and passionate about uplifting education in our beautiful country. As a teacher at heart, she is raising a generation of literate readers and believes this is key to developing strong and empowered leaders for the future.

About 13 years ago Ros took a break from her job that she loved and thrived in – teaching Foundation Phase – to become a full-time mom. And, like she says, all it takes is a spark, which becomes a flame that turns into the fire needed to bring about change. The spark was bedtime stories – a highlight that her and her young children Caitlin, Connor and Max, along with Cooper the retriever – enjoy each day.

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Photo: Lara Sue Creative

“Snuggled up enjoying a good book or a made-up imagination story together, chatting about what we can learn from the book and coming up with our own stories … this was that spark. I love how stories have the power to unlock things in us and set us free, how they impart powerful lessons and challenge us to live our best lives.”

Already volunteering as a mentor to Grade R teachers to a disadvantaged school in Inanda in her spare time, Ros realised she needed to actively do something to bring lasting change to education, which would hopefully bridge the gap between privileged and underprivileged schools. Her dream of establishing functional libraries and classroom book corners became a reality and The Let’s Educate A Rainbow Nation (LEARN) Project began.

“All it was initially was a passion project started as a mom. I simply asked friends to collect their pre-loved books and donate them to LEARN so we could establish a culture and love of reading in schools with no access to books and reading resources.”

10 years later, through collaboration with individuals, donor and beneficiary schools, corporates, NGOs, and more recently The Department of Education and the National Education Collaboration Trust, and through her role as the KZN Lead Provincial Support Partner of the Presidents Reading Champion Programme, the project has grown to establish 18 LEARN Intersen (Intermediate and Senior Phase) libraries. It has set up 282 Foundation Phase classroom book corners and supported many other schools with books and reading resources.


“Teacher training with ongoing support and school visits is part of our sustainability programme to achieving lasting impact. With well over 60 000 books distributed so far, we’re celebrating a decade of inspiring hope, instilling change and impacting lives.”

The LEARN Project operates from a beautiful space at The Rock Church in Umhlanga that’s equipped with a coffee shop and sense of community. It also openly welcomes volunteers to help with book sorting and covering.

“Although the home of The LEARN Project is an office, travel is at the centre of what we do, as our libraries, book corners and librarians are the heartbeat of the project and require time, support and monitoring. Visits to donor schools are a highlight over important literacy weeks in the calendar, where we lead motivational assemblies with the theme of ‘readers make leaders’. It is here that learners dress up as their favourite book characters and bring a preloved book to donate to LEARN. We also show special videos from our beneficiary school library launches to highlight how their book donations are making a significant difference to the educational lives of others.”

Over the years Ros has encountered many who’ve had a huge impact on hers, like the story of a little boy named Ntsika, who entered the first LEARN library as a wide-eyed Grade 4 learner, who couldn’t speak or read in English.

“Perseverance saw him improve, leadership qualities made him a library monitor, and discipline had him entering the Phendulani Literacy Quiz each year, eventually being part of the winning team! He stayed in contact while finishing high school, fulfilled leadership roles, passed Matric with seven distinctions, was accepted into universities across South Africa, and is now pursuing his dream of becoming a doctor. This is a story of hope. It is also the power of a book.”

The LEARN Project welcomes new schools who would like to become donor schools and partner with the Project in educating youth. Volunteers can get involved in a number of ways, from collecting books, to helping with library transformations and set up.

“There is never a dull day and life is always meaningful. The beautiful thing about getting involved in The LEARN Project is that through an active process of giving from the heart to make life better for others, be it time, finances or resources, our lives are enriched.”

Photo: Lara Sue Creative

Ros is also passionate about writing. She’s recently launched two children’s books – The Rumbling Rhino and Under the Baobab Tree – both of which have been published by Penguin Books and include a Did You Know section to highlight interesting facts and encourage conversation.

The Rumbling Rhino and Under the Baobab Tree are available on Takealot, Loot, Exclusive Books, Wordsworth Books and Graffiti Books for R150


“I love the power of words and the impact they can make when used wisely and kindly. I haven’t openly shared my She Is Rising Instagram page until now, but have started it to inspire, support and encourage women. If I could choose one word to be known for it would be impactor. When an opportunity arises to make a difference my heart and my head say yes. Yes to purpose, yes to uplifting, yes to bringing joy, yes to making a difference.”

Ros’ valuable input into a very necessary need in our country was recently recognised as an outstanding contribution to the community by Rotary International when she was presented the prestigious Paul Harris Award.

“Learning to embrace my personal gifts and talents has been a journey, but I’ve realised just how powerful and impactful we become when we activate these and share them with the world.”

Details: www.thelearnproject.co.za

Photo: Lara Sue Creative

10 ways we can all learn to make a difference…

Ros places huge emphasis on being there for her children, leading by example and empowering them with the tools they need to embrace their own strengths. She shares 10 ways we can all make a difference

  1. Time is our most valuable resource. Use it carefully.
  2. Start where you are, don’t procrastinate.
  3. Use your gifts and talents, don’t sit on them. They are the keys to opening doors for others.
  4. Be an encourager. Our words have the power to impact others significantly. Use them wisely and kindly.
  5. Ignite your why, find your purpose. The rest will fall into place and you will make a difference.
  6. Focus on what you can change and breakthrough will follow.
  7. Touch a life, the ripple effect is huge.
  8. Make time for others. Community is everything and collaboration broadens the impact made.
  9. Get involved with something that will make a difference. If you can’t find it, start it.
  10. Remember, no act of kindness is too small or insignificant.
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