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Difference Maker

Why Tracy Cosgrove opened day-care centers in Thailand

A plucky British ex-pat in Pattaya, Thailand, saw kids playing in the dirt while parents worked at a construction site. So, she set up day-care centers and orphanages for needy children.

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"There were just three filthy beds for 20 children," she recalls. "They ate stale rice off banana leaves."

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The building had no showers or toilets.

Within two months, it had both.

Thanks to Cosgrove, the newly renovated orphanage also had its own generator – and lots of toys. She has since built several kindergartens and homes for boys and girls, each overseen by a local village committee.

On any new project, Cosgrove starts from scratch. "If I have a passion for something, I'll make it work," she says. "I know what I want, and I know how to get it."

Just five feet tall, she recently bluffed her way into a high-level United Nations meeting in Yangon. She wanted to get an update on Burma's cyclone-devastated south.

"I just walked right in, flashing my business card at the security guards," she says. "If you've got a go-getting attitude, who's gonna stop you?"

"Tracy has boundless energy and goodwill, and an ever-expanding network," says Vicky Bowman, Britain's former ambassador to Burma, who worked with her on some of her projects. "And she is never ashamed to ask."

Even as a child, Cosgrove says, she was a doer. When she was just 12, she started a lunch-break snack shop at her all-girls school in Manchester. At 17, she became England's youngest (and shortest) traffic warden. Later she would reinvent herself as an interior designer and hotel manager.

In 2003, Scotland's Evening Times named Cosgrove, who then lived in Glasgow, Scotswoman of the Year for her independently funded good works, which included buying 200 bicycles for HIV-positive children in northern Thailand.

She used publicity from the award to kick her work into high gear.

Cosgrove, who now lives full time in Thailand, has several airlines and luxury hotel chains among her sponsors. She's acquired more than $1 million worth of goods from suppliers in Britain for children in Thailand and Burma.

"Tracy is very straightforward and has this infectious quality about her," says Paul Strachan, a Scottish journalist based in Pattaya who has followed her work closely.

"She's created a mind-set where local construction companies now feel obligated to build kindergartens at new camps for their laborers. So they just call her."

• To learn more go to www.mccf.uk.com

• For more stories about people making a difference, go here.
 

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