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

Youths looking at the bears
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 don’t usually have the opportunity to visit wildlife centres, so this trip gave young people a chance for learn about their country’s 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 center 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: Friday, 23rd June 2017: This was the third trip that Mith Samlanh organized for a group of 20 (9 female) children and youth to the Wildlife Center Free the Bears educational program. The children and youth were age between 10-24 years old and participate in Mith Samlanh’s programs. The majority of them are currently studying at Mith Samlanh’s educational center and vocational training.


8am - Breakfast at Mith Samlanh: Before heading to the Wildlife Center all the youth and children had breakfast at Mith Samlanh’s Center. At 8:30am the children were picked up by our travel agency partner Exo Travel and arrived at the Center at around 10:45AM. This time the road traffic was extremely congested which delayed the arrival to the center by almost one hour. Nonetheless, it was enough time for the children to learn about the bears and enjoy the visit.

Since the youths were late, the introduction about the center was quite short. The Free the Bear staff quickly presented their work and without any further delays the children were taken out to see the bears.

11am - 12:15 pm – Guided Tour around the wildlife centre: This is what the children were waiting for! With a sparkle in their eyes they ran to see and admire the bears. They were extremely excited and happy. The staff were also very helpful and responded to all the inquiries from the children, as well as explaining clearly the way of life of the bears and other wild animals. Besides the bears they also visited some other animals like crocodiles, elephants, etc.

12:15 - 1pm: Lunch: The lunch was purchased by the social workers in advance and was shared between all the children and staff.

1pm- 3pm: Play time: After lunch the staff from Free the Bears organized a few games for the children and youth about animals and environmental conservation. The youths received presents for being active and engaging in the games (such as pens, reading books, pencils, notebooks.)

After spending time enjoying the games, the children got back on the bus and returned to MS.

Youths and bears
Youths listening to talk about bears
Impact: Similarly to the other groups who visited the center, none of these children and youth have ever been to the Wildlife Center before and never had the opportunity to see wild animals. It was an unforgettable experience. For many of them it was the first ever trip outside Phnom Penh. They were all very happy and thrilled.

Quotes from the children and social workers:
“I’m happy to see so many wildlife animals. They are very nice. I would like to ask all the people to come together and protect these animals because they are going extinct in the wild.”

“This is the first time that I come to Tamao Mountain. I think that this visit is very informative for us. I think we should all work together to protect the forest and animals in our country”

“This is the first time for me to come to this place. I’ve very happy to see so many animals, especially monkeys. I’ve never seen so many before in my life.”

"I noticed that the students were very surprised when they arrived at the Center, not just because of seeing so many different animals, but also because of the nature. They live in the city most of the time and are rarely in contact with the nature. Phnom Penh doesn’t have many parks or trees, so going to the wildlife was a huge experience for them. They seem to forget everything. When they arrived at the center, they just wanted to jump out of the bus and go and see the animals. Thank you Responsible Travel for this opportunity." – Mith Samlanh Social Worker
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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