So many people have gone to great lengths in a bid to help sensitise the world about HIV/AIDS. However, very few, if any, have gone to his extent of being kidnapped and tortured by the Taliban, being robbed six times, living with wild animals, and cycling around at least 99 countries.
Somen Debnath, an Indian national, has been pedalling around the world on his bicycle to spread awareness on HIV/AIDS, preach peace, and promote Indian culture. He says he was inspired to spread awareness about AIDS after he came across an article about the disease. “An article entitled ‘AIDS is deadlier than cancer’ inspired me at the age of 14 to spread awareness among people,” Debnath says.
He says the stigma related to the disease and lack of knowledge about the deadly disease is what motivated him the most. They say charity begins at home and that is exactly where he started his awareness campaign. “From my village I started visiting different areas in my state and country on a bicycle and gradually it grew into a global campaign.” His world tour commenced on May 27th, 2004 with the mission statement:
‘Around the World Bicycle Tour for HIV/AIDS Awareness Program and Seminars on Indian Culture.’ He says his goal is to reach all 191 countries by the end of 2020, covering a total distance of approximately 200 000 km. Debnath, currently here in Botswana until the end of the week, says so far he has visited 24 countries in Eastern and Central Asia, 48 in Europe, and 25 African countries. “I have crossed seven seas, three oceans and the greatest mountain ranges like Himalayas (South Asia) and the Alps (Europe),” he says, adding, “I have visited Greenland and pedalled up to Arctic Circle (North Pole), and I have seen many faces of mighty Mother Nature.”
Debnath says the solo journey has not been easy. He says he has encountered many hardships along the way, including a torturous 24 day long captivity at the hands of the Taliban (an Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan) who mistook him for a spy. He got robbed six times in Central Asia, and came across wild animals such as rhinos, elephants and pythons in the wilderness. “My journey has been full of learning experiences, thrills, survival challenges, and interactions with various ethnicities, and cultures. I have lived with the Jarawa people (one of the most ancient tribes) for 20 days in Andaman & Nicobar Islands (India).
I have also spent time with the Maasai in Kenya.” Some of the countries he is going to have to visit in order to complete his mission include those in Western Africa, America, Canada, Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, China, Japan, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and South East Asia. Debnath comes from the village of Basanti in West Bengal, India. He has a degree in Zoology from the University of Calcutta and completed his ‘Vishaarad'(Expert) in Fine Arts at Sarbabhartiya University. He started his journey at the age of 19. He would be conducting his HIV/AIDS workshops in the country before moving on to Zimbabwe and other countries. He cycles approximately 12 000 km per year. Debnath documents his travels in his own website, www.somen2020world.com. He can also be reached at [email protected]