Sunderland woman celebrates 20 years as chieftain of African tribe

Lynne Symonds in front of her anniversary poster.
Lynne Symonds in front of her anniversary poster.
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A retired school teacher who hails from Wearside has celebrated the 20th anniversary of being the first white woman to be named chieftain of an African tribe.

Lynne Symonds’ charity The Wulugu Project has helped more than a third of a million children in the deprived area of Northern Ghana, letting them get an education and improved their chances in life.

A child at a blackboard in one of the Wulugu Project schools.

A child at a blackboard in one of the Wulugu Project schools.

Over 60% of people in the area live in poverty.

Lynne became involved in education in the country when she met Wulugu Project co-founder Karimu Nachina in 1993 and heard about the challenges preventing Ghanaian children, especially girls, getting an education.

Lynne made headlines around the world when she was made the first white tribal chief of the Mamprusi tribe, specifically chief of enlightenment and education back in 1996.

As part of the anniversary celebrations, Lynne was given a citation from tribal chiefs, praising her devotion to the area.

Lynne Symonds with Nayiri, the Mamprugu king.

Lynne Symonds with Nayiri, the Mamprugu king.

Speaking to the Echo, Lynne, who now lives in Norfolk after growing up in Sunderland, said: “We’re really proud of what the charity has achieved over the years.

“People who donate know we are not a rich charity, but they see the good work we are doing and where their money has gone.

“We are not corrupt and we have a really strong reputation.

“We don’t get any major funding at all but people help because they know that we care.”

Lynne Symonds at the game reserve where her charity is building a number of schools.

Lynne Symonds at the game reserve where her charity is building a number of schools.

Since its creation, the project has built or substantially repaired more than 40 primary schools and provided desks for many more, built eight local Junior High Schools and seven vocational schools for girls aged 16-25, with hostel accommodation, and provided accommodation for teachers, including safe rooms for women.

Lynne was rewarded for her work with a Points of Light award from Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015.

Mr Cameron at the time that the “whole country should be incredibly proud of her”.

She is now hopeful that the charity continues to improve lives for those living in Ghana.

“Now, we’re doing a lot of work at the biggest game reserve in Ghana.

“We’ve been given money from Prince William’s charity Tusk to help endangered animals because people are being forced into poaching them so that they can make a living.

“The charity is building three schools to help stop those things happening.”

Lynne, who comes back to Sunderland a number of times each years, also added that she wanted to show her gratitude to the Wearside public who have supported her work over the decades.

“Sunderland folk are very proud people and they have been magnificent in giving the project money, whether it is big or small amounts,” she said.

“I can’t thank them enough.”

To find out more about the Wulugu Project and to donate, go to www.wulugu.co.uk.