#TerraChamps: Run For The Oceans With Sam Bencheghib
Chatting with Sam Bencheghib was a dream come true. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sam, he RAN across America for the oceans. If running 3055 miles doesn’t show a commitment for our planet, we don’t know what does.
When Sam’s not strengthening his hamstrings and quads, he’s busy with Make A Change, the organization he co-founded with his siblings, Kelly and Gary. When the three Behcheghib kids were growing up in Bali, they started a youth-led environmental organization to clean up all of the plastic pollution they were seeing on the coastlines. Yes, you read that right, they were kids—Sam was just 12 when they launched Make A Change! Over the past decade, Make A Change has evolved to become a full-time media outlet and worldwide environmental organization. It’s likely that you’ve seen one of their videos on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok because they’ve garnered more than 600 million views.
In fact, if you’ve seen the popular video of activist Rob Greenfield wearing every piece of trash he created over the span of a month, you’ve seen Make A Change firsthand because they filmed and produced the video! Sam and his siblings aren’t just behind the camera all the time—they’ve also recently launched Sungai Watch, a river cleanup program in Bali. They’re working hard to stop plastic in rivers before it enters the ocean, and their goal is to create a solution that can be scaled up around the globe. We know, this is a lot to take in. At just 23 years old, it appears that Sam is just getting started, too. Our interview with him highlighted even MORE ways this #TerraChamp is really making this world a better place.
Sam - you are the Co-Founder of Make a Change. This year you launched - Sungai Watch, a river cleanup program to stop plastic in rivers. Do you think we are any closer to setting a standard of eco-friendly packaging?
We founded Make A Change 10 years ago with the goal of getting plastic pollution on front-page news by coming up with creative awareness campaigns and video series. Back then, we saw a huge lack of awareness and education when it comes to plastic in our home country of Indonesia. This year, we launched Sungai Watch because we were still seeing massive amounts of plastic flushing down our rivers into our ocean. We have definitely seen a push towards eco-friendly packaging for consumer goods like clothing but we have yet to see a push big enough for food and health products, especially in Indonesia. We are still collecting thousands of plastic shampoo bottles, and plastic sachets everyday in our rivers in Indonesia. So long story short – I definitely think there is still a very long way to go.
Make a Change called "Waste-Pickers" heroes of Bali. Do you think that if the US started up nation wide initiatives such as this, we could make a real difference for our bodies of water? If not this - what could we do?
Waste pickers are definitely one of the true heroes of Bali, and this is not just limited to Bali. There are millions of waste pickers around the world that salvage recyclable materials to sell them to earn a living. In New York City for example, where I live, there are hundreds of “canners” who look for aluminum cans and glass bottles in our curb waste stream to sell to recycling plants. The truth is, they are merely trying to survive by selling the materials that package our unhealthy consumption habits because materials like aluminum and glass are very valuable. They can be infinitely recycled if recycled properly. I sincerely think that we need to switch the way we think about waste pickers and our sanitation workers in general. We consume so much, throw things away and expect everything to get disposed of properly. But without proper waste management and our sanitation workers that clean up for us everyday, we would have to deal with the consequences of our own trash, which is very much the case in a lot of developing countries around the world like Indonesia. So yes, I definitely think we need to celebrate our sanitation workers and waste pickers a lot more. But we also need to re-think our consumption habits and realize that everything we use ends up somewhere.
What is the "craziest" thing you've ever done for climate change?
At Make A Change, we truly believe that no idea is crazy enough to protect our planet. Having witnessed the effects of climate change and plastic pollution on a daily basis growing up in Indonesia, we realized a few years ago, that we sometimes need to do crazy things to get people’s attention. 4 years ago with my brother Gary, we decided to kayak down the most polluted river in the world, the Citarum River (in Indonesia) on kayaks we built out of 300 plastic bottles. We went down the river for two weeks and couldn’t believe the state of pollution on the Citarum. After releasing a few videos online, we were so amazed to see that our expedition got the attention of the Indonesia government. 4 months after our expedition down the Citarum, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, announced the biggest clean-up in Indonesian history by deploying 7,000 military troops to clean-up the river over the next 7 years. That expedition inspired a few others, including my most recent campaign to run 3,055 miles (5,000 kms) across the entire United States, from New York City to Los Angele to bring the ocean to land-locked communities. I was running close to 6 marathons a week and spoke to over 10,000 people during my journey, from schools to politicians, trying to raise awareness about the importance of protecting our oceans and living a more sustainable waste-free life. And I actually partnered up with Parley For The Ocean and Adidas to use their shoes made from up-cycled plastic collected from shorelines around the world.
You and your family are from Bali. How did you land in New York and what has the city come to mean to you?
I have always looked at New York as a source of inspiration. There are so many opportunities here and an incredible talent pool with creatives and forward thinking companies. One day during my run across the United States, I watched a video on YouTube that Ryan Serhant and Casey Neistat had posted about a contest they were starting to give away a free-year of rent in NYC. I applied thinking I would never have a chance. But the next think you know, I’m living rent-free in a beautiful apartment in the Lower East Side. So I definitely got lucky with that one, but either way, I think I would have definitely moved out here regardless of the contest. NYC is a place that is so beautiful in its own way, but it's incredibly dirty, especially with the current $106 million budget-cut from the department of sanitation. So there is a lot of work to be done and I’m excited to be here for that!
Who have been your biggest #TerraChamps (aka supporters) in life?
We have had a lot of incredible support throughout the years. We have worked and collaborated with so many incredible environmental organizations around the world. But mostly, I would say my biggest supporters are my sister Kelly and my brother Gary. We co-founded Make A Change together 10 years ago and seeing their drive and motivation everyday to make this planet a better place, is truly incredible. I’m so grateful to be able to say I work alongside my two best friends.