Text and Photos by Ong Yu Qi
Ong Yu Qi. 1999. Penang, Malaysia. First and foremost, I would like to thank BSBCC for giving me a chance to be a volunteer at the centre for three weeks (19/3-8/4), I consider it as the best thing I’ve experienced so far in 2017. Back to 2016, my family and I were watching a TV show that was featuring BSBCC in one of the episodes and it was that day that I got to know about BSBCC and I was impressed with all the work that BSBCC have done. I then decided to volunteer at BSBCC after finishing my SPM to gain knowledge about wildlife conservation and to learn more about sun bears. After going through the application process and an interview, I got an email from BSBCC on 12th of February informing me that I’m IN for the volunteer programme! :D
Every morning after breakfast at the volunteer house Bjorn Hala (Meaning: Bear Den in Swedish), we will take off at 7:30am to the centre and start to work at 8:00am. For the morning session, one will either be at the bear house cleaning cages or at the kitchen preparing food for the bears. I admit cleaning cages wasn’t a fun thing to do, but I always had that distinct sense of achievement after cleaning them! On the other hand, working in the kitchen is less tough but there are a lot of things to do because everything that is needed for a balanced sun bear diet is done here. Some days, one will go for fence check to ensure the fences are clear from leaves, and stems from climbing plants because the voltage of the electric fence will be affected if there are foreign objects attached to it. Volunteers would had a chance to feed the bears too (without having contact with the bears of course) We feed them four times a day, two times porridge, two times fruits & vegetables.
In the afternoon, we make enrichments for the bears. Enrichments are very crucial in the rehabilitation process of the bears as they can encourage their natural bear behaviours and boost their emotional health. (Bears can be bored and need something to play too!) In these couple of weeks, I’ve made nest balls, stick paradox, bamboo feeders, ice blocks and so on, not forgetting a hammock for my favourite sun bear - Simone!
There were also some days, we got to have sessions with Dr. Wong. He was so patient to answer whatever questions we had about the sun bears, the centre, on his life and so much more. Thank you Dr. Wong for delivering so much information to the volunteers and interns despite your busy life!
Don’t get me started on how amazing the people are! Everyone is willing to help, listen and answer. When I first got here, I was shy, quite nervous about meeting new people and kind of not used to being far away from my parents without any friends but everyone was so friendly and affable, I found my feet in no time. I would like to thank all of the BSBCC staffs (especially the Bear Care Team) and people that I’ve met along the way, and of course, Dr. Wong Siew Te for all the little and big ways you all have pitched in ♥ . The sun bears are extremely lucky to have such passionate, committed and selfless people as their “moms” and “dads”. I’ll never forget the days we went out for dinner, grocery shopping and movies, not to mention the splendid home cooked dinner we had at Dr.Wong’s house!
Furthermore, I learned a lot about the importance of a balanced ecosystem and the role humans play to protect it for our future generations. It’s sad to think about the fact that a lot of Malaysians don’t know about the existence of sun bears in this country and their vulnerability, it seems like people only know about giant pandas and polar bears when it comes to endangered bear species. These beautiful and precious creatures need to be protected and cherished, I hereby urge everyone (especially Malaysians) to find out more about sun bears by volunteering at BSBCC!
In a nutshell, my volunteer experience at BSBCC wasn’t a far cry from what I had expected - positive vibes, amiable people & lots of new things to learn every day! Truth be told, I’m proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and took up this challenge at the age of 18. The things that I’ve learned, the stories that I’ve heard, has empowered me to become stronger mentally and physically. I didn’t know that I’m capable of all of this until I’ve done it and I’m very grateful to have a experience like this to widen my horizon before my next big challenge - college.
New things that I’ve experienced during this period of time:
-Using tools that I didn’t use before, namely,jigsaws & power drills
-I had the chance to talk to foreign and local visitors about the sun bears (sun bear facts and their vulnerability)
-First trip alone to an unfamiliar place far away from home (first time in East Malaysia too!)
-Made new friends and got the chance to speak in languages other than Chinese (growing up in a Chinese family, owning 99% Chinese friends, I never really got opportunities to speak in other languages) I learned some Sabah slangs too ;P
I’m certain that I will be back because I want to…
-Experience more! (three weeks was too short, I didn’t even have the chance to go to an outreach programme which travels to schools to raise awareness about sun bears)
-Meet these amazing people again
-Help and learn more and more about sun bears!!!
Lots of love,