Play­ground of her dreams

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Janie Smith

CHIL­DREN in a Thai vil­lage will no longer have to spend their play­time in an empty school­yard thanks to a Mt Al­bert man’s gen­eros­ity.

Mike Leonard and his seven-year-old daugh­ter Jydee are head­ing to Thai­land next week to build play­grounds for a school and preschool in the small vil­lage his late wife came from.

Pra­pa­porn Un­na­wong, who was known to friends as Pon, died of can­cer in June at the age of 40.

The fam­ily vis­ited Mrs Un­na­wong’s vil­lage in 2007 be­fore she was di­ag­nosed and Mr Leonard says he will now ful­fil her dream of build­ing a play­ground for her old school.

Be­fore her death, Mrs Un­na­wong worked at Auck­land Girls Gram­mar School’s child­care cen­tre, where she made a last­ing im­pres­sion, says work­mate Jane Archer.

Miss Archer says her col­league was a “baby whis­perer” who was a nat­u­ral at un­der­stand­ing the needs of the youngsters she cared for.

“She was a great cook and re­ally kind and gen­tle and car­ing.”

In hon­our of her friend’s mem­ory, she and friend Louise Guy will also travel to Thai­land and help Mr Leonard build the play­grounds.

Mr Leonard says the vil­lage, near the Mekong River, has a school which has a sin­gle build­ing, but no play­ground.

He says when the fam­ily trav­elled through ru­ral ar­eas in Thai­land, he didn’t see any play­grounds.

He ini­tially looked at build­ing plas­tic play­grounds but it was too ex­pen­sive, so he de­cided in­stead to model the de­sign off the play­grounds at Free­mans Bay School, which Jydee at­tends.

They will be made from heavy-duty wood and rope and de­signed so lots of chil­dren can use them at the same time.

Mr Leonard is fi­nanc­ing the project him­self and try­ing to do some fundrais­ing. He will buy all the hard­ware in New Zealand and Thai Air­ways has given him an ex­tra lug­gage al­lowance.

He hopes the lo­cal peo­ple will get in­volved in the project and it will en­cour­age other schools to fol­low suit.

“It’s not some­thing that has been recog­nised but sooner or later it will and they will all start build­ing play­grounds,” he says.

He and Jydee leave for Thai­land on Septem­ber 15.

The play­grounds will com­ply with New Zealand safety stan­dards. Any­one in­ter­ested in mak­ing a do­na­tion to­wards the play­grounds or learn­ing more about the project can con­tact Miss Archer on 373-5734.

Photo: JA­SON OX­EN­HAM

Play­time: Mike Leonard and his daugh­ter Jydee are go­ing to build play­grounds in Thai­land with friends Louise Guy, left, and Jane Archer to ful­fil the dream of Mike’s late wife and Jydee’s mum, Pra­pa­porn Un­na­wong, inset.

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