Between two filmings of his shows which usually take us across the world, often by bike, it is from Corsica that we spoke with Adrien Joveneau, Belgian emblematic host and producer of the RTBF.
Mekong Plus: Hello Adrien and first of all thank you for your availability and for the time you have kindly granted us for this interview.
Adrien Joveneau: Thank you, it’s my pleasure!
MP: Adrien you were in Vietnam last February as part of the filming of one of your shows and if I understood correctly, it was neither your first time in Vietnam, nor your first meeting with the Mekong Plus team and its beneficiaries?
AJ: Yes indeed, I have known Mekong Plus for about ten years and the person who brought me closer to it is Claire Kervyn who happens to be Bernard Kervyn’s sister, Bernard being the founder and current director of Mekong Plus.
At the time, Claire had participated in one of our shows called “Le beau vélo de Ravel”, which is a program that helps the viewers discover the best Belgian cycling routes. Claire had then brilliantly won the contest that we had organized during the show and she had won a trip to Quebec. For the record, she had not been able to free herself for this trip and with an immense outpouring of generosity that she had decided to offer this gift to the candidate who had finished in second place of this contest.
I found this gesture really nice and so that’s how I started sympathizing with Claire, and by sympathizing, she told me about her brother Bernard, his atypical life course as well as the mission he gave himself with the NGO Mekong plus that he created some thirty years ago. According to Claire, there was no doubt that Bernard and Mekong Plus could be an interesting subject to cover for an upcoming show.
The least we can say is that I was not disappointed at all when I met Bernard, with whom we first shot several shows in Belgium. Later on, I wanted to see if the reality was as beautiful and meaningful as the stories he was telling (laughs) and it was in 2017 that I flew to Vietnam for the first time as part of a section of the show “les belges du bout du monde ” which featured Bernard Kevyn and Mekong Plus with a close-up on the extraordinary work that this Belgian NGO is doing to eliminate poverty in South Vietnam and Cambodia.
MP: Adrien, I think it is fair to say that you have been a supporter of Mekong Plus for many years. What motivates and inspires you in the missions of Mekong Plus and the work carried out by this NGO?
AJ : Yes we can absolutely say that I am a friend, a supporter and even an admirer of Mekong Plus!
First of all, what strikes me with this NGO is the efficiency it demonstrates in carrying out so many development projects simultaneously in different regions.
I was thus able to realize that Mekong Plus really works on the ground in a very organized way and with an important network of local partners who are as close as possible to the people who need them the most. When we see the way the teams act on the projects, we realize that at Mekong Plus we are not afraid of “getting our hands dirty”!
What I also really appreciate about Bernard Kervyn is his hard work and the fact that he is always ready to sacrifice himself for others with a smile and with passion, like on the first day.
When you see the work that Mekong Plus does as well as the conditions in which certain beneficiaries and villagers live, it commands respect, and as European citizens, it makes us feel like we don’t have the right to complain about our conditions.
MP: Adrien, let’s go back to your last visit to Vietnam in February 2023. You were back in Vietnam for the filming of one of your shows, how did you prepare this trip?
AJ: Yes exactly. Bernard contacted me in September 2022 and suggested the idea of doing something together again. At first, we didn’t have a precise idea and then thinking about it, I told myself that the concept of our show “L’échappée Belge”, which aim is to make people discover a region of the world by bike, fitted perfectly with Vietnam and with Bernard, a keen cyclist who makes bamboo bikes with Mekong Quilts his other venture, which is a social enterprise affiliated with Mekong Plus.
For “L’échappée Belge” in Vietnam, we needed a special guest with a certain stature because we couldn’t send just anyone to Bernard! (laughs).
I therefore decided to contact Alex Vizorek, Belgian comedian and humorist who said “yes” right away.
For the record, Alex and Bernard have similarities in their respective paths as they both started with business and marketing studies to then completely change their lives by devoting themselves to others and human development for Bernard and becoming a public figure and a radio and television man for Alex.
And it’s in early February 2023, that Alex Vizorek and I joined Bernard for a 5-day adventure in southern Vietnam.
MP: Can you tell us more about your trip to the Mekong Delta? What were the highlights of your visit to the Mekong Plus projects?
AJ: We had an appointment with Bernard in the village of Long Mỹ, located in the province of Hậu Giang. What struck us when we arrived was the total immersion in which we were during these 5 days during which we did not meet a single tourist!
We ate, drank, slept and quite simply lived like the locals. It was an authentic and extraordinary experience, far from the large tourist groups and the luxury hotels.
During our trip we traveled by bus, canoe, motorcycle and of course by bicycle, which was very pleasant as the Mekong Delta is pretty flat and makes travel on two wheels fairly easy. We crossed very few cars but a lot of motorcycles and we were very nicely welcomed by the Vietnamese who, when we were passing by on our bikes, were encouraging us with their smiles and by shouting “Hello” (laughs). The friendliness and kindness of the Vietnamese who were often amused to see Europeans cycling sometimes in very hot weather allowed us to create unforgettable memories.
Among the most interesting things we saw, I can mention the bamboo forest and the bamboo workshop of Mekong Quilts that produces magnificent bicycles made with a local variety of bamboo that is very solid but yet ensures a very comfortable seat while riding these eco-friendly and durable frames.
The quilts workshop where women produce beautiful bed quilts and cushions was also a highlight. When you think of garment factories in Asia, it is sometimes difficult to move away from the clichés with the big factories that exploit the poorest populations, sometimes from an early age. At Mekong Quilts, we were able to meet very talented craftswomen who have received proper training and who work in very decent conditions with environmentally friendly materials, all for a fair salary and in a good working environment.
Finally, another project that has impressed us is the biogas installation. In small pig farms, Mekong Plus helps farmers build biogas systems that turn pig manure into gas for cooking and thus reduce household expenses but also recycle pig excrement in an ingenious and efficient and sustainable way.
MP: To conclude, the program was just broadcasted on Belgian television. How can our readers and followers watch it in replay?
AJ: The show “L’échappée belge” shot earlier this year in Vietnam was broadcasted on Sunday May 28, 2023 on RTBF channel. I would like to invite everyone to visit this magnificent country that is Vietnam and to discover this great NGO that is Mekong Plus, which you can help if you wish by visiting their website: https://mekongplus.org/en/welkome-at-mekong-plus/
If you wish to watch the show in replay, click the link below and enjoy!
MP: Thanks Adrien and if I may say “Cảm ơn“
AJ: Thanks and “Cảm ơn”!