An Indian national, Mr Somen Debnath, is presently in Nigeria on 'Around the World Bicycle Tour' programme to raise global awareness on the effects of HIV/AIDS, through the education of young men and women worldwide. Somen, who arrived Lagos on bicycle after visiting 110 other countries in the last 11 years through same means, told Saturday Vanguard that the whole essence of the bicycle tour, which he said started at his hometown in Sundarbans, India, in May 2004, is to enjoin in ensuring that people living with the virus are not stigmatisied and or discriminated.
Somen, a graduate of Zoology from the University of Calcutta, India, who started his journey at the age of 14, also stated that the tour, which had been fraught with dangers and challenges, such as being held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan, robbed several in Central Asia, beaten by skinheads, in addition to, serious contention with wild animals, including cheetahs, rhinos, pythons and other life-threatening animals, is all the way fulfilling, for fact that the massage is meant to reassure hope to affected persons with HIV/AIDS.
He says, "2015 to 2017 will be dedicated to South Pole, South and North America. In 2018 I plan to pedal to Canada, Russia, Siberia, Mongolia and China. In 2019 I will go to Korea, Japan, Philippines, New Zealand and Australia. Thereafter pedal to Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh in 2020 and then cycle back to India on May 27, 2020, to complete my 16- year bicycle journey."
Also disclosing how Mahatma Gandhi's positive influence, inspired him to push on, and how he was moved by a homeless person suffering from AIDS, who lay down in front of the hospital in Kolkata, abandoned by his village and was left to die alone. "This impacted me to dedicate my life to spreading awareness about this destructive disease. What started out as an effort to educate my village of Basanti in Sunderbans in India has now become a world-wide campaign," he said, adding that "Cycling is the easiest vehicle that I can use to reach people.
It is does not contribute to global warming and is environmentally friendly. It also conveys a message towards pollution reduction. It is the cheapest way to travel, I could not think any other way to bear the expenses of this trip." Also disclosing how he intends to actualize his mission in Nigeria, he said, "My focus is to meet with the youth through seminars and presentation, as well as meeting with truck drivers, drug addicts and sex workers, who need condom promotion, and drug addicts.
I take some initiative to NGOs and other organisations to promote the use of safe syringes and needles in urban and rural areas."
However, he intends to build a global village which will be dedicated to the world. The village will be self-sustaining and can take about 10,000 people in a year. "I believe that we came to this world to make a difference and when we leave, a new generation will come to contribute theirs as well", he submitted, while commending the Indian Government, Indians in the Diaspora and people in the host countries for supporting his global HIV/AIDS campaign tour.
Somen's goal is to pedal 200 000 km and cover 191 countries till 2020 while also reaching out to 20 million people. He has been travelling on his bicycle for over 10 years and has covered a distance of 112, 150 km across 93 countries. Despite all the misgivings he smiles to say that he has made good friends in all countries visited. He takes pride in saying he is giving 16 years of his life to the world aiming to share the happiness.