Somen Debnath was 14 when he read an article about a man near his village who died of AIDS, lying alone outside a medical college in Kolkata, India. Debnath said when no-one, including his teachers, could explain to him what AIDS was, he promised himself he’d learn and be able to teach people.
When he was 16, he got special training from the Society of West Bengal State AIDS Control and started an awareness campaign on AIDS at his school.
Debnath held seminars, promoted programmes on AIDS, the safe use of needles and syringes between people addicted to drugs, condoms for sex workers, and Non-Government Organisations around the world.
In 2004, after completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology, Debnath began his mission "Around the World on Bicycle Tour for HIV / AIDS Awareness and Seminars on Indian Culture,” which led him to cycle 157 countries.
The bike has been his "mobile home" and has carried everything he needs.
Debnath arrived in New Zealand on February 11 and had cycled 1100km from Auckland. He is now staying in a hostel in Christchurch until he can continue his trip to Bluff.
“I’m a little stuck in my journey, but I cannot fight nature,” Debnath said.
During the level four lockdown, he is writing a book about his travels, as well as painting, meditating and practising yoga.
Debnath said he has co-operated and tried to understand what is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I go into a country, I cannot complain as a guest in the country.”
His compliance and compassion extend to every country he goes to, including when all of his money was robbed, he said, "they probably needed it more than me."
“In many countries, people behaved very good and, in many countries, people behaved very bad.”
When in Afghanistan, he was held captive and tortured by the Taliban; was robbed in Central Asia; and beaten by skinheads, Debnath said.
One challenge he has faced across the world is people questioning his identity and race.
“It was hard to make them understand that I also exist in this world.”
In the last part of his 16-year journey, Debnath will travel to Australia and South East Asia, before returning to India to build a ‘global village’, to host hundreds of people from around the world.