Last time I came to Cambodia I made the mistake of leaving my hair long. As soon as I stepped off the plane, into the wall of heat and humidity, my hair sized up into what I will call an afro (others, less polite people, might say a bird’s nest).
This time, being a quick learner, I cut my hair short a few days before my departure to Phnom Penh. Boy, did I make a good choice, even if I do say so myself.
I made my first trip out to Cambodia in 2010. I received a grant from the Wellington Zoo Conservation Fund, which allowed me to spend three weeks working with Free the Bears, an organisation working to protect, preserve, and enrich the lives of bears throughout the world. They work with local government agencies to rescue bears from the pet and restaurant trade, bile farming, dancing bear and any other unfavourable situation a bear might find itself in. Free the Bears are like superheroes for bears.
When bears are rescued Free the Bears takes care of them in purpose-built sanctuaries, in six different countries throughout Asia. Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, 45km south of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, is the largest Sun Bear sanctuary in the world. It is currently home to 95 Sun Bears and 35 Asiatic Black Bears (or Moon Bears).
Their work does not stop there. They are committed to engaging with local communities about conservation issues as part of a visit to a sanctuary. They have well-developed formal learning experiences, and for the past few years they have been developing self-guided interpretive trails. This is where I help out.
Free the Bears are experts in caring for bears, but they have gaps in their skills, especially around the development of interpretation. I have returned again and I am currently here to help them with three projects:
- The development the ‘Bear Discovery Trail’ – a visitor experience that runs through the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre;
- ‘The Wild Things’ Playground, a children’s play area at the sanctuary that celebrates Cambodia’s amazing biodiversity; and
- Assisting their education team with the development of an education strategy.
The projects are interesting and a lot of fun to work on. However, the real point is, that as interpreters, we have a skill set that is vital for organisations like Free the Bears. I doubt they are the only ones out there that would value a professional interpreter volunteer. It’s awesome being able to share my knowledge with the staff over here and build their capacity. I get far more in return, it’s exciting, challenging and I do a whole heap of learning.
My tip: If you get an opportunity to share your interpretation skills – do it, you won’t regret it. Just cut your hair first.
Note to members: our skills-sharing resource is under development and will be available in the member’s section soon. While its not as exciting as Oli’s Cambodian experience, who knows where volunteering an hour of your time might lead…..(Sarah)