Lynne Symonds (Education, 1969)
Aid worker and founder of The Wulugu Project
Lynne Symonds (Education, 1969) has helped thousands of poverty-stricken children in Africa through her organisation the Wulugu Project, and has even been made a Chief of three remote African tribes for her charitable efforts.
As a teacher, Lynne has always been passionate about enabling students to succeed. Although the prospect of long summer holidays was a major factor in her initial decision to become a teacher, Lynne soon discovered a talent and enthusiasm for education that went on to shape her entire career.
“At the time, most of the girls from my grammar school went on to become teachers or enter the medical profession – careers advice didn’t really happen. Although I entered into teaching for the wrong reason, I soon realised that it was the right decision.”
It was through a chance meeting at an educational conference in Tokyo twenty years ago that Lynne first heard about Wulugu, a small town in the northern region of Ghana.
“I met the headteacher of Wulugu secondary school, who described the pressures of trying to teach 350 pupils in a school with no books, equipment, running water, sanitation or electricity.
"Wulugu is situated in one of the poorest parts of the country and most people rely on subsistence farming to survive. Soils are poor and conditions have become harsher over recent years because of drought caused by climate change. This poverty is reflected in schools, where access and resources are desperately inadequate.”
Moved by their situation, Lynne decided to do something to help. She began collecting books from local schools to send to Ghana, and also organised for desks to be sent to the secondary school.
In 1994, she travelled to Ghana to open a library of the books she had sent and was able to witness first-hand the problems facing their educational system. Upon her return to the UK, she launched the Wulugu Project and set about raising money for projects to improve the quality of education and welfare of pupils in the country.
Since then, Lynne has helped to build/renovate and equip 40 primary schools, provided education in more than a hundred villages and helped more than 200,000 children out of the cycle of poverty.
She even made national headlines in 1996, when she became the first white woman to be become a tribal chief in Northern Ghana for her work in setting up a hostel for school girls.
In 2003, Lynne received a second chiefdom, when she became 'Queen of Philanthropists' for Gonjaland tribe for her role in encouraging girls to take part in primary education. She was named ‘Chief of Peace' of the Dagomba tribe this summer in a special ceremony that included shooting rifles, sitting on animal skin, singing and dancing.
“To be a woman chief is very unique - sometimes I forget that. I feel exceptionally honoured. It is the Wulugu Project that deserves the honour really.”
Lynne is now hoping to build a Junior High school in the remote village of Kpatarigu to enable children over the age of fourteen to continue their education and progress to Senior High. The charity also wants to expand its vocational starter loans programme to enable more young people to set up their own village enterprises.
“I am very proud of the work our charity has done - we have quadrupled the amount of girls in primary school education – but I am never happy and always need to do more.”
For more information about the Wulugu Project, please visit www.wulugu.co.uk