When now 25-year-old Clément Nothomb graduated with a double degree in Law and History & Political Science about three years ago, he questioned his purpose and goals in life.
“I wanted something different so I asked myself; if I perished tomorrow would I be happy with what I had?” Clément, recalling his inner voice.
With the calling to do something meaningful and fulfilling a promise to a now-deceased friend who he vowed to travel the world with, he decided to be the master of his own time with the ultimate goal of meeting the people of the world and experiencing cultures radically different from his native Belgian one.
Travelling from Paris to France on a bicycle with a mission
Working for nearly a year or so in restaurants to fund the trip, Clément set his mind on cycling from Europe and Indochina on a bicycle.
“The longest I rode on a bicycle before this journey was just 15-kilometres!” He said.
Knocking on the doors of almost a hundred bicycle shops in France and Belgium for potential sponsorship, he explained that part of his quest was dedicated to funding bicycles and scholarships for children whose families are beneficiaries of Mekong Plus in Vietnam and Cambodia who he discovered through the help of his sister.
Founded in the late 90s, the Mekong Plus is a non-profit organisation that strives to change and improve lives in both countries through projects focused on education, agronomy, infrastructure, sustainable economy, and more.
No doubt, there were ups and downs in his ambitions and a massive learning curve.
Despite a proposal totaling 20 pages, he was met with more refusals and contributions. It was not an easy decision to trust a young man fresh out of college without a following to start with. He finally won sufficient equipment through an Instagram competition at Cyclable France, a purveyor of two-wheels for long distance cycling enthusiasts. From this point onwards, Clement realised the importance of social media and began detailing his journey and motivation.
Clément’s epic journey to reach Vietnam from Europe
Starting the trip on 30th April 2022 after acquiring a simple 29” rimmed city commuter bicycle with no modern suspensions, Clement was faced with the mammoth task of travelling at least 17,000 kilometres.
“I began the trip with 45 kilograms of luggage, by the time I reached India, It was reduced to less than half,” Clément, suggesting that one should keep light if they were to attempt the same.
Travelling through 17 countries including Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Armenia, Iran and Nepal, something struck him when he approached eastern Europe—Clement decided to contribute every penny he didn’t spend during the 1700 kilometres between Hungary and Turkey to the Mekong Plus scholarship fund for rural children.
Despite being oft-quoted one of the poorest countries in Europe, Clément was deeply touched by the generosity of the locals of Serbia who gave him everything from donations to coffee and food.
“Essentially I could open a grocery store at the end of that stretch!” He exclaimed.
As he traversed the increasingly warm Arabian peninsular to reach India, he encountered the same warm treatment from Iranians.
Reaching Vietnam and discovering Mekong Plus
With 7067 euros raised through sharing about his trip on instagram and through donations from strangers along the way who listen to his explanation which was often conducted using Google translate, Clément arrived in Long Mỹ commune of Vietnam’s Hậu Giang province in late March 2023 where he visited Ánh Dương Centre, a sister non-profit organisation that shares the same goals as Mekong Plus.
Gifting 25 bicycles and more than 45 scholarships to needy children in Vietnam to help them stay in school, the remaining then went on to help children of Rumduol District in Svay Rieng Province, Cambodia.
Beyond strengthening the prospects of education in the region, Clement also visited sustainability projects helmed by Mekong Plus.
“I was impressed by projects such as biogas harvesting. [Basically] any efforts to help create a circular economy based on sustainability,” he added.
One of Mekong Plus’ most recent pilot projects in Cambodia involves turning banana trees into fertiliser and feed for chickens—training farmers to reduce waste is an important focus.
How you can help Mekong Plus together
Ultimately, Clément chose to dedicate his journey to Mekong Plus with clear reasons.
“The best way to help people is with active participation,” Clément, explaining how he believes that mutual solidarity of volunteers and locals is tantamount to the task.
With local teams working on the field and in close proximity to its beneficiaries, Mekong Plus is able to respond swiftly to changes and help push children to complete education for a better life.
“That’s why I chose to support the Mekong Plus scholarship programme!” He concluded.
Visit Mekong Plus list of beneficiaries to discover a wide range of people you can support to change their lives for the better.
“Believe in your dreams. Give dedication to something you want to achieve and it will happen!”