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Why Petra Bagust feels wealthier than ever

The former TV star is happy doing her bit for charity.

The thought of Petra Bagust being seen in a sleazy Thai strip club is almost as unlikely as seeing Gareth Morgan picking out a kitten at the local pet shop.

So it’s somewhat surprising to hear that the former Breakfast host, committed Christian and mum-of- three’s last late night involved hanging out in brothels in the red-light district of Bangkok with Offspring hunk Ido Drent.

But Petra’s unusual evening was no wild night out. She and Ido (29) were part of a committed team from New Zealand charity Tearfund, trawling Bangkok’s seedy Nana district as part of a simulated investigation into the sale of young girls and women into a life of abuse.

Abuse survivor Shrey Mon is now at university.

By being part of this mock inquiry, Petra was able to witness how dedicated Kiwis, including ex-detectives and members of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), follow up on leads about suspected cases of human trafficking across Southeast Asia.

“How do you comprehend women with numbers pinned on them being on stage gyrating? It’s literally women becoming a commodity. They lose their humanity and their individuality,” she says.

“And many of these women are trapped. They can’t go home as there’s too much shame… They resign themselves to being stuck there. There aren’t many fantastic options for them to earn money.”

Petra’s been involved with the Christian charity for the past three years, after seeing a film about human trafficking.

“It’s one of the only organisations in New Zealand that specifically deals with this issue,” she explains.

While the Thailand leg of the trip focused on how prosecutions come about, the Cambodia part was about rehabilitation.

“They used to take all these girls who had been abused and put them in shelters,” explains Petra. “Now, if the girl’s own immediate family isn’t an option, they find foster families, and offer support and counselling for the girl and her relatives. It’s much more effective than segregating a group of survivors in a building.”

One of Tearfund’s huge success stories is Shrey Mon, a 23-year-old Cambodian survivor. Abused from birth by her mother, she was sold at the age of five by her father to a “grandmother”, who was no relation.

The woman farmed her out to her friends and relatives to do domestic work, where she was essentially a slave.

Cambodian foster children who have been placed with a stable family and now go to school.

When Shrey Mon was about 11, she stole a bike and managed to escape to another village where the chief took her in.

“She said it was the first time that she recalls she had ever been loved,” says Petra.

The chief’s family looked after her, passing her on to a local NGO, and eventually, to Tearfund.

“She’s now in her third year of university,” adds Petra proudly. “She had to catch up on her education and she is going to go into the provinces when she graduates to do advocacy work, helping families with land rights.”

Petra exudes maternal pride as she talks about Shrey Mon. Since quitting Breakfast three years ago, she’s thrown herself into family life – especially since husband Hamish Wilson, a freelance cameraman, has been spending long hours filming Real Housewives of Auckland.

A mother-of-two who fosters three girls in Phnom Penh.

At the mention of the show, she laughs.

“It’s utterly brilliant slash appalling! You feel like you need a shower afterwards, eh?”

Petra was a sympathetic ear when Hamish came home after hours stuck in the thick of all the drama.

“There were many times when he’d come back and go, ’Oh, my goodness!’” she says.

The former TV host’s own foray into becoming a housewife has been a lot less dramatic.

“I recognise it’s a privilege not to work full-time. My husband is working and my children – Venetia (13), Jude (11) and Theo (9) – are growing up at such a rapid pace and I’m getting to spend time with them.

“I actually have space in my head these days. I was at netball on Wednesday and I’m a soccer mum every Sunday.”

As for her parenting style?

“I’m a joy banana!” she grins. “Hamish is the responsible one, the uber-trustworthy parent.

“I’m the kind of mum who would rather the kids were playing out on the flying fox until it’s dark, even if it means dinner is late!”

Petra, who’s also a public speaker, is philosophical about the highs and lows of the last few years.

“Comparison and competition doesn’t interest me any more – I’m much more interested in collaboration,” she says.

These days, her wage is lower, but she is “spiritually rich”. She regularly runs six kilometres and has committed herself, with a group of friends, to nurturing a passion for art, producing one ink drawing per day for 50 days.

“The world has many options,” she muses. “I’ve been on TV for 22 years, but getting up at 4.20am most mornings for Breakfast didn’t suit me, so I had to let go. Three years on, I feel wealthier than ever because my mind, soul and body belongs to me, and I can invest in my family and my community.“

If she were to go back into TV, it would “only be for something I really, really wanted to do. I love what Nigel Latta is doing.”

In a few weeks, Petra and Hamish are off – minus the kids – to Spain, where they’ll join her parents on holiday.

“I’ll speak Spanish for them and Hamish will drive. Can I speak Spanish? No! But I’m learning.”

But while she’s the first to admit she has a blessed life and a “glass half full” attitude, it hasn’t all been a breeze.

“It was a huge transition after having Venetia,” she admits. “My postnatal depression was the best thing to happen to me at the time because it made me change how I did life. All those trials that we face are invitations to do things differently.”

Actor Ido Drent joined Petra in Thailand.

It’s also why Tearfund is so important to her.

“Now, more than ever, I’ve realised that all humans need to belong, all humans need love and Tearfund’s work really shows that. Seeing these children who have only had examples of being used and abused finally being loved proves beyond anything how love turns lives around.”

Words: Carmen Lichi

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