Free The Bears Wildlife Center in Phnom Tmao, Cambodia - travel journal

Group at the wildlife center
On Friday, 5th May 2017, Mith Samlanh organised a trip for a group of 20 children and young people to the Wildlife Center Free the Bears educational program. The trip was possible with the wonderful support of Responsible Travel.

The young people were aged between 10 and 24 years old and came from different slum communities in Phnom Penh. All of them are studying at the Mith Samlanh's educational center, where they attend vocational training courses and remedial education. The majority of children and young people who live in the slum communities in Phnom Penh are extremely marginalised because they lack access to education and skills training, and many times are exposed to abuse, exploitation, sex work, trafficking and drug use, not to mention barring them from any hope from receiving an education and finding stable employment.

To address these issues, Mith Samlanh runs flexible vocational trainings for youth and remedial education for school children giving them the opportunity to become productive citizens.


8am - Breakfast: Before heading to the wildlife centre all the youth and children had breakfast at Mith Samlanh. At 8:45am the group was picked up.

10am - Introduction: After almost and hour and a half's journey, and supervised by two social workers, the young people arrived at the centre around 10am. The group was welcomed by the Free the Bears staff who gave an introduction about the work they do, and presented information about the bears they work with, the history behind the centre and the rescue mission. All the animals in the centre have been rescued from various kinds of abuse or injury, are victims of the illegal wildlife trade or have made their way there as a result of habitat loss. They include many endangered or threatened species.

Children learning about the centreChildren listening to the presentation
10:45am - Guided Tour around the wildlife centre: For the next hour, the children and youth were given a tour around the center, where they had the chance to see sun and moon bears. Later on, they invited the children to help the bear care team in preparing food and treats for the bears such as bamboo logs, grass baskets and Aussie dog balls, and helped feed the bears. The children were extremely impressed by the bears' ability to get their food from the bals, and with their intelligence.

After lunch: The visit resumed with a tour to see other animals at the center, including elephants, pythons and monkeys, among others.

End of the day: After spending more than an hour exploring and listening about wildlife conservation, the children got back on the bus and returned to Mith Samlanh.

Children visiting the bears
Impact: None of these children and youth had ever been to the wildlife centre before and never had the opportunity to see wild animals. For many of them it was the first ever trip outside Phnom Penh. This trip was very meaningful for all of them. They were all very happy to see and learn about animals and be immersed in nature. The thing they liked the most was feeding the bears and seeing the elephants. They also appreciated the environment and the the fresh air, which you don't really find the city, where very limited parks and green spaces exist. After the trips they asked the social workers when the next trip would be because they really wanted to return to the centre.

Quotes from the day
“This was an amazing trip for the children. They don't have many opportunities for trips and visits. It was great for them to learn about animal conservation and environmental protection. They learned about different animals, how they live and how to protect them.” - Social worker

“I feel very happy to see the bears and other animals. I've never seen a bear before; they are so beautiful and intelligent.”

“I learnt a lot about how to take care of the animals and why we should protect them from being trafficked.”

“I am very happy. It's so green and nice here. It so fresh in comparison to Phnom Penh. I love to see the bears and the elephants. They are so big.”

“After this trip I want to go again to see the bears and other animals. This trip was very nice.”

About our partner organisation: Friends International is an award-winning social enterprise founded in 1994 that saves lives and builds futures of the most marginalised children, youth, families and communities in Southeast Asia and around the world. It works to create a future where all children are safe from all forms of abuse, and become functional, productive citizens who contribute to a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable world. Friends works in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Thailand, and with 45 partners around the world, to provide comprehensive services to marginalised urban children, youth and their families. Since its inception, Friends has supported the education, wellbeing, and sustainable reintegration of more than 300,000 vulnerable children, youth and their families.

Mith Samlanh was established in 1994 as Friends first program based in Phnom Penh Cambodia. Since its inception, the program has supported the education, wellbeing, and sustainable social reintegration of more than 200,000 marginalised children, youth, and their caregivers. It does this through a holistic range of inclusive programming that impacts about 15,000 beneficiaries each year.

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