BY ASHLEY SZATALA
Sam Bencheghib, LEHIGH 2019, is running from New York City to Los Angeles to encourage people to reduce their plastic consumption
While growing up on the island of Bali in Indonesia, Sam Bencheghib, LEHIGH 2019, and his brother, Gary, often would go surfing. But when paddling in the Bali Sea to catch the waves, the pair would have to travel through various discarded plastic items littering the water.
“[We] witnessed [Bali’s] once pristine beaches get filled with plastic pollution,” Bencheghib says. The brothers started cleaning the beaches on a weekly basis 10 years ago when Bencheghib was 12 and Gary was 14. They called their efforts Make a Change Bali to inspire others locally to reduce plastic consumption.
The effect of plastic pollution on their community made a lasting impact on the Bencheghibs, and today they devote themselves full-time to educating people on the consequences of plastic pollution and how to prevent it. Make a Change Bali has grown into Make a Change World, a media outlet that uses video storytelling to share the stories of changemakers and create positive social change.
“The Sigma Chi mission, which is to develop values-based leaders committed to the betterment of character, campus and community, has always been something that I live by,” Bencheghib says. “At Make a Change World, our goal is to inspire positive change and improve our community and our planet. The Sigma Chi values and principles are very much in line with ours at Make a Change World.”
For his work with the organization, Bencheghib has been named the fall quarter Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award winner.
Raising awareness of plastic pollution in waterways
Bencheghib and Make a Change World have done several expeditions to raise awareness about plastic pollution in waterways. The first was traversing down the Mississippi River in a boat made from recycled materials in 2016. Then, a year later, Bencheghib and Gary used kayaks made from plastic bottles to paddle down Indonesia’s Citarum River, which was named by Scientific American in 2013 as one of the top 10 most polluted rivers in the world but is often viewed as the worst.
“Going down these rivers, you really see the impact of plastic firsthand. Communities on these rivers are suffocating on plastic pollution,” Bencheghib says. “People rely on its water to cook and bathe. It is so devastating to see the conditions these people have to live in because of poor waste management systems, which is something we take for granted here in the U.S. since all of our trash is collected for us.”
During the brothers’ trip down the Citarum, they released videos documenting their journey and the individuals who were working to clean up the river. The videos went viral and attracted the attention of Indonesia President Joko Widodo, who met with the brothers and announced in 2018 that the river’s water should be made drinkable within seven years through an aggressive new cleanup effort led by the country’s military.
“We were hoping our videos would be seen by many, but we never expected to meet [Widodo] or even less that this expedition would turn into a seven-year job for the two of us working with the Indonesian authorities to monitor the cleanup,” Bencheghib says.
Gary Bencheghib says that trip down the Citarum was the first time he noticed his brother really grow as a leader.
“I saw a big transformation in Sam during our Citarum expedition,” he says, adding that it inspired Bencheghib to think bigger about projects that could effect change.
Running nearly 3,000 miles across the United States
Up next for Bencheghib, as of this writing, was embarking on a five-month-long and nearly 3,000-mile-long trip across the United States to spread awareness of plastic pollution. He planned to run 20 miles a day, six days a week, from New York City on the Atlantic Ocean to Los Angeles on the Pacific Ocean beginning July 26 in what he calls his Ocean2Ocean run. Thanks to a sponsorship by Parley for the Oceans and Adidas, he also planned to wear shoes made from recycled materials during the run.
“In a time of such environmental concern, we need to talk about the solutions and innovations available to us to make our planet healthier. Therefore, we believe that no idea is too crazy since we are running out of time,” Bencheghib says. “Yes, running across the country may seem crazy, but it is an incredible opportunity to engage with as many communities as possible along my route to inspire and encourage them to protect the environment and generate less waste. I will be hosting as many educational presentations as I can at schools and universities, as well as try to get local governments along my route to sign a no plastic pledge.
“The fact that this run will be extremely physically demanding is a good metaphor to showcase the severity of the plastic pollution problem.”
Gary Bencheghib says it’s exciting to see his brother take on his first big solo project with Make a Change World.
“As an older brother, I am so proud to see Sam follow our motto that everything is possible if you dream big enough,” he said. “It is empowering to have a brother who has supported me since day one [with Make a Change World]. Up until Sam’s graduation, he would jump in as soon as he got a holiday and join me on set projects. But now I couldn’t be happier to have him jump in fulltime and host his own projects.”
For each project Make a Change World does, such as the Citarum River expedition or the Ocean2Ocean run, Bencheghib uses a five-step strategy.
“Think big; no idea is crazy enough when it comes to the environment. Find local allies to team up with. Spread positivity and focus on solutions rather than the problem. Get the message out via social media and other platforms,” he says. “And last, be persistent, never give up, and, often, one adventure inspires the next.”
A person with good character shows trustworthiness, respect and fairness to others, as well as responsibility and citizenship. Those members who go out of their way to help others and those who overcome obstacles and lead with integrity are good candidates for the Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award.
Sigma Chi introduced the award to recognize the selfless acts of brothers. A formal recognition by the Fraternity allows non-members to appreciate the scope of the organization. For information about the award, see sigmachi.org/character.