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

Youths looking into enclosure
Responsible Travel has partnered with Friends International in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to support a trip for to the Wildlife Rescue Center, Free the Bears Sanctuary. Young people from vulnerable backgrounds donít usually have the opportunity to visit wildlife centres, so this trip gave them a chance to learn about their countryís wildlife and understand their habitat.

Free the Bears is non-profit rescue center that focuses on the protection and rehabilitation of Moon bears (Ursus thibetanus), Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) and Sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) across Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. To protect the species the centre employs a wide range of strategies that include improving environmental education, providing sustainable livelihoods, helping to increase law enforcement and researching the protection of wild bear populations.

Date: Thursday, 21st December 2017: Mith Samlanh organized a trip for a group of 23 children and youth (7 girls) to the Wildlife Center ĎFree the Bearsí educational program. The trip was made possible with the wonderful support of Responsible Travel. The children and youth were aged between 10 and 24 years old and came from different marginalized communities and Greenhouse, Mith Samlanhís drug rehabilitation center. The children and youth from the communities, who are often marginalized due to lack of education and skills, leaving them vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, sex work, trafficking and drug use, attend vocational training courses and remedial education, to aid them in reintegrating into school or finding stable employment, and ultimately to become productive members of society.


8am - Breakfast at Mith Samlanh: Before heading to the Wildlife Center all the youth and children had breakfast at Mith Samlanh. At 8:35am the children and youth were picked up at Mith Samlanh to drive to Tamao mountain where the center is located. On the bus, the children had sing-a-long sessions and told jokes with the social workers.

10:40 - 11:10 am: The group was welcomed by the Free the Bears staff and heard a presentation and completed questionnaires about the history of the bear and the importance of them. They then enjoyed a guided tour around the Wildlife Center to see different species of wild bears (Sun Bears and Moon Bears) as well as monkeys, crocodiles, herons, marabou, large deer, porcupines, polecats, big cats and many types of birds.

12:15 - 1:30 pm: The children and staff relaxed to have lunch. During this time the staff and the students all told each other jokes and stories.

1:30 - 2:20 pm: Visits to the animals continued.

2:20pm: After spending many hours listening about wildlife conservation, the children got back on the bus and returned to MS.

Youths looking through enclosure
Youths looking into enclosure
Impact: Most of these children and youth had never been to the Wildlife Center 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 the elephant. They also appreciated the environment and the fresh air which you donít really find in the city, where very limited parks and green spaces exist. After the trip, they asked the social workers when was the next trip because they really wanted to return to the center.

Quotes from the social workers:
"They were feeling happy to bring the children and youth to a new environment and to see the wildlife, and to increase understanding about natural resources."

"To see the children and youth thinking about the value of animals."
About our partner organisation: Friends International is an award-winning social enterprise founded in 1994 that saves lives and builds futures of the most marginalized 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 marginalized urban children, youth and their families. Since its inception, Friends has supported the education, well-being, 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, well-being, 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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