–raising HIV/AIDS awareness from country to country
DESPITE being beaten, robbed and held captive for days by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Somen Debnath is still riding his bicycle to countries across the world to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Debnath, who started his journey on May 27, 2004 from his native India by bicycle, has so far visited, and shared his knowledge, with persons in over 132 countries. Through his “World Bicycle Tour,” he has covered 148,000 kilometres.
His ultimate objective, he told the Guyana Chronicle, is to educate people of various strata of society on the vagaries of HIV/AIDS by talking primarily to youngsters at both the primary and secondary school levels, as well as those in colleges and universities, and to also encourage those institutions to begin a chapter on the sensitisation programme on HIV/AIDS.
He also plans encouraging non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in countries around the world to do likewise.
Debnath holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology from the University of Calcutta and has also obtained a Visharad Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Sarbabhartiya, in Calcutta.
After qualifying himself, the cyclist has reportedly comducted a number of awareness programmes in his hometown, The Sundarbans, reputedly the world’s largest forest reserve which stradles both Bangladesh and West Bengal in India.
His HIV/AIDS awareness programmes were taken to NGOs, schools, colleges, universities and red-light areas, as well as numerous restaurants.
Today, his achievement, which started at home, has evolved and he was able to share his knowledge with some 120 Indian high commissioners and ambassadors, six kings, 38 presidents, 64 prime ministers, and 380 ministers of the government and other officials from different countries. His desire is to visit around 191 countries by the end of 2020.
FRAUGHT WITH DIFFICULTY
Achieving those goals did not come without its fair share of difficulties, he said, as he was held captive for 24 days by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was also robbed some six times in Central Asia; weathered temperatures of -35 °C in the former Czech Republic; been beaten some eight times by Russian ‘skinheads’; lived in the wilderness with wild animals such as rhinos, elephants, cheetahs and pythons for company; and spent some 20 days with the Jarawas, one of the most ancient tribes in India.
Asked what’s the thing that’s kept him going the most, Debnath said he always kept his initial inspiration in mind which he attained at the age of 14 when he read an article entitled, “AIDS is more deadly than cancer.”
The person referred to in the said article was homeless, and was sitting in front of the Medical College of Calcutta, where he was left abandoned by family to die alone.
“The article had a great impact on me,” Debnath said, adding:
“And then I began to ask my teachers at school about HIV/AIDS, but they could not give me any satisfactory answer.
“As a result, two years later, I decided to get specialised training in WBSACS (Society of West Bengal State AIDS Control) and started awareness campaign on HIV/AIDS, education from my own school.”
His training and expertise have gotten him to where he is currently, said Debnath. And, his vision is to use his knowledge to build a Global Village.
“So far, I have collected soil from every country I went to and sent it back to my homeland,” Debnath said, adding:
“The soil is the foundation for the Global Village. I would like to invite all my friends and families around the world that I have been meeting during my trip to support my global village. They will all be lifelong members.”
The campaign will be built on funds collected from worldwide programmes and personal donations.
Debnath, who’s here now, said he will be in Guyana for 10 days to conduct workshops on HIV/AIDS and peace and humanity in colleges, schools and health centres, and will also be meeting with NGOs, social organisations and other institutions which are interested in his services. He can be contacted through the Indian High Commission of Guyana.