ExWeb interview with Jelle Veyt, from a street kid to an adventurer

Posted: Sep 15, 2013 01:23 am EDT

(By Correne Coetzer) At age 17, Jelle Veyt lived on the streets in Belgium. Three years later he chose to rise above his circumstances. He qualified as a physiotherapist, went on cycle trips and started to live his passion for mountaineering.  

 

During his homeless years Jelle learned he doesn't need a lot to be happy, "probably quite cliché to say but in my case it's really proven and not just talk," he said to ExplorersWeb. As a teenager he had to walk kilometers to collect water for his shelter and added the importance of not taking anything for granted, "not even water".

    

Jelle's cycle and mountaineering trips became more and more challenging and he is currently, at age 27, cycling 10,000km from Belgium to Everest. On route he has climbed Elbrus alone last month.

 

With his expedition he is raising funds for an orphanage for street children in Nepal. ExplorersWeb caught up with Jelle in Kazakhstan, before he enters the Steppe in a few days, to find out about his life story.

 

What happened that you started living on the streets at age 17?

 

Jelle: At the age of 16 my father met another woman after 25 years of marriage. From then on lot of problems began and he started playing games, going away - coming back. Every time he left we (my brothers and me) had to take care of my mother and even taking her several times to the hospital for suicide attempts. This situation was unbearable as a young kid and as the youngest of 4 brothers I never had a good connection with my father, probably because of the regular beatings too.

 

Every time he came back I didn't have the right to express my opinion or to get involved, so I felt abandoned by my father and mother. In the end my parents moved out to a place where there was no place for me and I decided to go. So kinda getting kicked out/escaping from the bad situation. My oldest brother and I left the house where we lived for all our lives; he dropped me off in Ghent. There I met people living on the street and squatting empty houses. Finally my mind was clear.

 

What were the saddest times on the streets?

 

Jelle: The first few months were quite good, it was summer and I met nice people who weren't using drugs (very lucky for me especially as a young kid). We were living in a forest near the city where some old buildings were, very nice location, just no water or electricity (we had to walk several kilometers with backpacks full of water).

 

But after 6 months the big misery came. First a friend got killed by her boyfriend as a jalousie act and 2 weeks later one of my best friends got killed by a hit and run accident. He was walking home after a concert we went to. Then we got evicted and had to spend several nights in the freezing cold (it was November/December then). Luckily I was wise enough to continue my high school which made my days in winter more bearable.

 

As the misery wasn't big enough at this school I had a friend who was in the same situation as me, he committed suicide in January, his parents didn't even want to pay for his funeral; way a miserable life he had. One month later a friend got hit by a car while cycling home and was left for dead. She was in a coma and luckily she woke up from it. Half paralyzed she started her rehabilitation for many months.

 

During those months I visit her several times and see physiotherapists teaching her how to walk and do many other things. Now she lives with her boyfriend and son in an apartment. This is one of the reasons why I decided in the end to become a physiotherapist. But the misery didn't end then and a month after this accident a good friend died at the age of 16 because of cancer (in 2 weeks time since the diagnosis).

 

So the hardest times weren't the physical discomforts at all. Maybe it's because of that it's hard to say I had a hard time then because I had other things on my mind. I wasn't sad to see people my age with luxury of more money for example.

 

But maybe the saddest time which is related with living on the street was begging. I just did it twice, for the rest I could take care of myself by going into dumpsters of the supermarkets and stuff or earning some money by cleaning night clubs on Sunday morning. Just begging is so humiliating and it doesn't feel good at all to just ask money to people, especially when they give bad reactions like, "no it's just for booze anyway" or "get a job". I just need some food and I want to work but I'm still at school so don't just judge me.

 

What survival skills did you learn on the streets?

 

Jelle: Too much to mention but for example I had a few books and still have one of them left. It's the SAS survival handbook. I was reading this completely and trying things out. For example I went dumpster diving and got back with lots of food. One of my friends said these ingredients were prefect for making a quiche but too bad we didn't have an oven. We lived in this forest then and I just made a wood oven out of the things I've found in the forest.

 

What did you learn about yourself?

 

Jelle: That I don't need a lot to be happy, probably quite cliché to say but in my case it's really proven and not just talk.

 

I learnt too that I'm capable of lots of things (actually everybody is) you just need to go for it.

 

I learned that I'm such a guy that sets his mind to something and doesn't let go until it works, which can sometimes be negative too.

 

I've learned the importance of not taking anything for granted, not even water.

 

What was the turning point? How did you get out of the streets and became a physiotherapist?

 

Jelle: Part of this question is already answered above (see accident of my friend who got into the coma.)

 

When my parents divorced completely my mother was living in a small apartment and was very fragile. I had some contact with her and she even came to visit me in one of the squats. She had some suicide attempts again and I went to visit more often (she lived in another city as me). I was already graduated from high school and after her final attempt I gradually went more to get to live with her. I got a job in construction.

 

After a while I started having the 'what if' question. If it wasn't for all these problems I'd probably been several years in University by now; I had good grades and was very motivated kid. As I don't like these 'what if' questions and regrets; I just wanted to start answering these questions and getting rid of my regrets. This is where the fantastic Belgian system kicks in. I saved some money and signed up for University, which is very cheap here. Because of the low income situation I even got a scholarship and my yearly subscription money for University went from 450€ to 80€.

 

What would your advice be to street people?

 

Jelle: Don't be too stubborn, let people help you but be stubborn enough to go for the things you want.

 

What advice do you have to people living comfortable with a roof over their heads, walking past homeless people?

 

Jelle: Don't be pretentious and be very aware that you don't know their story. If you want to help someone don't act like you're the hero, these are just people too and have their pride and dignity too, or at least need it.

 

If someone asks for money for food, give it if you want, if you don't want just say no but don't tell them off (again you don't know their story). If you don't trust them with money give them some food.

 

For more than 5 years you have been doing long distance cycling trips combined with mountaineering. How did the shift happen to these adventures and what do you get out of it? Tell us about what you do please?

 

Jelle: First I started a trip to Prague thinking this would be the trip of my life. The last days of this trip I was cycling home and just thinking of what I could do next. These 2800 km clearly weren't enough for me. I always had a passion for mountains and it made me think about crossing the Pyrenees from West to East. I started looking the Internet and saw guided tours doing this but with the transportation and everything I couldn't afford that.

 

I had time (3 months holiday for good students in Belgium) but not too much money. So I decided to cycle there on my own and cross them my own. Off course looking at the map I saw peaks and I wanted to climb some, so I thought of combining them. During that trip my oldest brother joined me and it was amazing but hard.

 

With every trip so far I'm cycling back home and dreaming about a new project, since then I combined cycling with mountaineering; the purest way to climb a mountain to me. For me that's the perfect combination and can take you anywhere you want.

 

Every year I'm going for something more extreme and maybe now I've found the ultimate. Climbing the 7 Summits and have every transportation on my own forces (not just by bike off course). From the 14th of July I started this journey and passed one of the 7 (Elbrus), very determined to go for it (probably will take me 5-10 years). I even refused a dream job at a rich Russian soccer team for this project. Finding sponsors is just a big obstacle in this.

 

You obviously have learned to live with few belongings on the streets. How much do you carry on your bicycle? What are your favorite items?

 

Jelle: Since I'm combining mountaineering and cycling I'm carrying too much gear but all are necessary. My bike weighs somewhere between 80-100 kg, depending on food and water (sometimes I have to take 20l of water). For example Goran Kropp, the Swedish mountaineer, cycled 20 years ago to Mount Everest. His bike was 108 kg when he left, luckily everything got lighter since then.

 

Sometimes I think why all this gear, but when I think about climbing mountains, I know why. One of my favorite items is my knife; one of my best friends gave it to me just before I left. It's a knife he got on a previous trip to Australia and New Zealand. Another thing is my compass, just can't go anywhere without it and I'm not using any GPS.

 

A last word...

 

Jelle: During those 3 years, I lived for 3 months in a forest to protect it from being chopped down. Most people said it wouldn't make a difference. We became more popular in the media and after negotiation with the mayor of Ghent the decision was made that the forest could stay. I visited it just before I left on this trip and it is still there.

 

Just to say that it's worth it to push through with things, even if you fail.

 

When people told me that it wouldn't help to occupy the forest I always said that it does help even if it would be chopped down. It would make people think about certain things and I would learn so much from it, so now when someone tells me I'm crazy or if something is impossible, I know better.

 

Oh yeah, I'm using my media attention for this part of my project to raise funds for the Street children in Nepal. There's a home (Shangrila Home) founded by Belgian people 20 years ago and they've proven to give good opportunities to those children. So I want to help create opportunities to become someone like I've got in Belgium.

 

And a final word from Jelle to ExplorersWeb, "Just so you know, maybe I seem a little cool/cold writing about all these things (my mum and so) but my heart is going like crazy and tears in my eyes as it is the first time I'm putting this on paper so detailed. But I'm ready to share these things with the world and hope to inspire other people with my story."

 

Previous/Related:

 

Jelle Veyt's website

 

Jelle's Spot Tracker

 

Maximo Kausch going for all 6000ers in the Andes

 

#mountaineering #everest #cycling2himalaya #jelleveyt #trek

 

 

Jelle Veyt on his way to Everest with his earthly possessions, tells about his live on the streets, "...maybe the saddest time which is related with living on the street, was begging."
courtesy Jelle Veyt, SOURCE
Jelle climbed in the Alps (image). "With every trip so far I'm cycling back home and dreaming about a new project, since then I combined cycling with mountaineering."
courtesy Jelle Veyt, SOURCE
"Solo Summit of Europe's highest point (first West Summit, 5642m, then east) after 18 hrs of climbing/walking I'm back in the village." Jelle says on his FB page Cycling2Himalaya.
courtesy Jelle Veyt, SOURCE
Jelle enjoys ice climbing. As a lone teenager he wanted to get rid of the 'what if' questions and regrets in his life.
courtesy Jelle Veyt, SOURCE
"Every year I'm going for something more extreme and maybe now I've found the ultimate. Climbing the 7 Summits and have every transportation on my own forces (not just by bike off course.)" Image: cycling the long way to the Himalayas.
courtesy Jelle Veyt, SOURCE
"Since I'm combining mountaineering and cycling I'm carrying too much gear but all are necessary. My bike weighs somewhere between 80-100 kg, depending on food and water (sometimes I have to take 20l of water)."
courtesy Jelle Veyt, SOURCE
Jelle recalls, as a street kid he went dumpster diving for food. Now, ten years later, he stocks up for his human powered expedition to the Himalayas.
courtesy Jelle Veyt, SOURCE
"[...] So the hardest times [on the streets] weren't the physical discomforts at all. Maybe it's because of that it's hard to say I had a hard time then, because I had other things on my mind."
courtesy Jelle Veyt, SOURCE
"During those 3 years, I lived for 3 months in a forest to protect it from being chopped down. Most people said it wouldn't make a difference. We became more popular in the media and after negotiation with the mayor of Ghent the decision was made that the forest could stay. [...] Just to say that it's worth it to push through with things, even if you fail." Image from his current expedition.
courtesy Jelle Veyt, SOURCE
Route from Belgium to Nepal. Started July 14th 2013.
courtesy Jelle Veyt, SOURCE