How Lena Zhang Harrap's zest for life left a lasting impression – New Zealand Herald

Lena Zhang Harrap, 27, was involved in a number of charitible organisations who have paid tribute to her contributions. Photo / Star Jam
Multimedia Journalist – NZ Herald
Anyone privileged enough to have met Lena Zhang Harrap quickly became infatuated with her smile.
From her first day of school right up until her final days, she oozed positivity and selflessness that will linger in the hearts and minds of all who knew her.
Harrap, 27, left a lasting impression in both her local and social communities in Auckland.
It seems the number of organisations and charities she invested her time in are endless – Heart Kids New Zealand, Star Jam, Blind Low Vision New Zealand and Idea Services are some.
The Mt Albert resident was loved by many from an early age. Her adopted family cultivated a culture of independence in which she thrived, the Herald has been told.
But her independence didn’t flourish without first overcoming challenges.
Harrap was born with a complex heart condition that needed surgery to repair, and impaired vision which she learnt to manage.
The former principal of Gladstone Primary School still remembers when she enrolled. Colin Dale said there weren’t many other students with Down Syndrome attending at the time, and Harrap taught her fellow classmates a lot about life.
“I would describe Lena as quite inspirational as a child.
“She had a personal aura about her that gave positive vibes to other people around her. People liked her. She endeared herself to people.
“Her mother is an example of a person who was a truly wonderful advocate for her daughter’s rights. She was a very good parent indeed.”
In 2003, aged about 9 or 10, Harrap became involved in the Auckland branch of children’s charity Heart Kids New Zealand. Ever since, she has attended monthly events, fundraised in annual “shake-a-bucket” drives and joined coffee meet-ups.
Family support strategic lead Mathilde Noordzij met Harrap for the first time at a Christmas event.
“At the end of that day … she sat on my knee and I remember how proud I felt that she was sitting on my knee. I’d made friends with her.
“She always loved helping with the bucket shaker. Watching her was always entertaining, because she was just not shy, she approached anyone. If they didn’t see her she would tap them gently on their hand and just wait … it was really hard to say no to her, so she always came back with a really full bucket.”
Noordzij said Harrap’s parents and sisters worked together to support her to become independent and assertive.
“They really wanted her to be confident and be as independent as she could be, and she was, she embraced life.”
At Lynfield College Harrap enjoyed hospitality and PE classes and was popular among her peers, a former classmate told the Herald.
“Her wicked sense of humour backed up by a mischievous smile brought much joy to those who taught her,” the college said in a statement.
“Confident and independent Lena placed no limitations on herself and gave everything her best shot.”
Harrap carried that attitude into her adult years, including completing a horticulture course run by the Manukau Institute of Technology at the Unitec Mt Albert campus.
But where Harrap really shone was dancing and performing among her Star Jam friends – known as jammers – which she dedicated more than a decade to.
A fellow member of the Central Alumni All Stars group, for people with disabilities aged 25 or older, told the Herald the highlight of their week were the Wednesday night classes, especially when Harrap was there.
“I didn’t know anything about Lena before I met her, but when I did I was like, oh my god, this chick is amazing.
“Her dance skills, her smile, her personality shone. Every time I saw her the room lit up with her smile. When you see her, you know the day is going to be good.”
The “jammer”, who the Herald has agreed not to name, said Harrap had a talent for dancing and was always enthusiastic about helping out during their weekly sessions over the past two years at the Onehunga Community Centre.
“She was a friend to everybody. Lena is going to leave a big hole in Star Jam.
“I don’t think Star Jam would be the same without her, because she made it what it was, but I’m going to continue to go.
“If Lena was still here she would want me to go, and she would want me to have fun. If I keep dancing, it keeps her memory alive.”
Another jammer – who danced alongside Harrap for 10 years – said the workshops won’t be the same without her.
“Every time she danced she always had the biggest, brightest smile on her face.
“You could see how much fun she was having while she was dancing.”
Liesl Crowther was a volunteer when Harrap attended the Auckland Magic Movers workshops.
“At the end of the workshop the jammers do ‘Spot the Talent’, an individual performance. Whenever she did hers, she’d always go and pull up her other jammers and get them to join in.
“The zest for life that she had is something that I really admire
“She definitely touched a lot of people’s lives even if they only knew her briefly.”
Harrap worked with Blind Low Vision New Zealand to develop techniques for undertaking everyday tasks and to give her the confidence to “live as independently as possible”, chief executive John Mulka said.
“She had a passion for music and dance but also relished cooking and craft activities.”
Harrap’s enthusiasm lit up their Parnell office every time she came to visit.
Harrap was a much-loved friend at the Idea Services community hub and programmes as well.
“She was a very active participant in our local Kapa Haka group and had recently been selected as a finalist in the IHC Art Awards,” said West and Central Auckland area manager Polo Aguirre.
Back home in her neighbourhood, residents would often see Harrap on her many walks up Mt Albert, and along nearby streets such as Jersey Ave and Grande Ave.
It was when she failed to return home from one of these walks last Wednesday morning that a search was initiated.
A narrow footpath connecting Grande Ave with Summit Drive, near the top of the maunga, is where her body was discovered by a member of the public.
Two days later, a man, 31, was charged with murder and sexual violation.
He was granted interim name suppression and will next appear in court on October 13.
The tragic news of Harrap’s death left many New Zealanders shocked and devastated.
A line of flowers, balloons and moving tributes is growing rapidly where a scene examination has now been completed.
Mt Albert residents called it “sickening”, and hope to grieve together when Covid-19 restrictions ease.
Some women in the area felt unsafe walking alone after learning Harrap had been the victim of foul play. A Facebook page has been set up for Mt Albert wāhine to discuss their concerns, and some hope to establish a buddy system so women don’t have to exercise alone.
Harrap’s family has asked for privacy at this time.
“With the outpouring we have received, we are eternally grateful,” the family said in a statement released by police.
“We acknowledge that people want to express their grief and love for Lena and our family.”
They asked people to donate to Star Jam and Heart Kids to show their support; two charitable organisations in which Lena received “great joy, friendship, acceptance and belonging”.
Heart Kids has received $9,000 in donations from more than 200 people. While they are grateful, Noordzij said their priority is with supporting Harrap’s family.
“We know this is going to be a long journey,” said Noordzij. “It’s not over after the funeral. Nothing is normal about this. There will be lots of processes going on and we will be there, whatever they need.”
Donate to Star Jam here.
Donate to Heart Kids here.

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