Bake-Off Martha treats Cambodian girls to cake

20 February 2015

TEARFUND

Meeting Martha: Akara, one of the young girls in Cambodia, is at risk of being trafficked into Thailand

Meeting Martha: Akara, one of the young girls in Cambodia, is at risk of being trafficked into Thailand

FROM being a Great British Bake Off contestant to becoming a charity campaigner for Tearfund, 18-year-old Martha Collison takes it all in her stride - although she admits that her latest venture was her most challenging yet.

She has just returned from a week with the charity in support of its work against child trafficking, visiting trafficked girls in Thailand and vulnerable children in neighbouring Cambodia.

"It was eye-opening . . . a very challenging week," she says. Miss Collison, the youngest contestant on Bake Off by many years, was taken through the red-light district in Bangkok to see where some of the trafficked girls are working.

"It was a very dark place, over-whelmingly dark. . . I could see young girls putting on their make-up together on the streets, like they were dressing up for a children's party, only they weren't - they were going out to service clients all night. It was heart-breaking. A lot of the girls have fake ID - the police say they are over 18 but you can tell looking at them they are much younger; some of them wear Hello Kitty or Winnie the Pooh lanyards with their ID. If they are young enough to still like Hello Kitty or Winnie the Pooh, they aren't old enough to be there. . ."

Those she is working with at Tearfund say they were "cautious", given Miss Collison's age: exposing her only to things she felt comfortable with, and making sure that she didn't enter any of the establishments; but she wanted to understand all she could about the girls' situation.

Working with Tearfund had been Miss Collison's own idea. She wasn't chased by the charity after she became a celebrity; rather, she approached them.

"When I knew I was in the Bake Off, I knew it was going to be exciting and life-changing. I wanted to use it to share what I feel passionate about - and I'm passionate about the Church and about helping people who are less fortunate than me. I heard about Tearfund's Big Bake, and I felt God was calling me to get involved in it, so I phoned them up and offered" ( Interview, 14 November 2014).

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She put her baking skills to good use on her recent trip, by showing girls in a workshop run by Tearfund in Cambodia how to make a simple cake. "We had very limited ingredients, so I cooked a deep-fried funnel cake, which is a North American fairground snack. It seemed to go down well!"

Tearfund is encouraging supporters to undertake their own "border walk" in solidarity with the thousands of children who are trafficked across borders. Its "No Child Taken" campaign is supporting projects that help girls in poverty-stricken communities to train and earn money to provide for themselves, to make them less vulnerable to traffickers who lure girls with offers of work.

In a border town in Cambodia, Miss Collison met some girls who are vulnerable to trafficking. "They were taking part in a sewing workshop run to make them less vulnerable to trafficking by giving them new skills. . ."

She plans to support the charity's Big Bake campaign later this year, and this weekend will be teaching the Archbishop of Canterbury to make a sticky-toffee pudding.

"It's a one-off for charity - I've no idea whether he can cook or not!"

Her celebrity status is also having a positive effect on her own church in Ascot.

"Whenever there is a bake sale at church, even if I do a basic Victoria sandwich, everyone thinks it's absolutely amazing! But it's good for church fund-raising."

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