Gary Bencheghib of "Make a Change Bali": Beach Clean-ups Through Personal Conviction, Environmental Responsibility

by Kayti Denham

Bali, 15 June 2010. When Gary Bencheghib moved from Paris to Bali five years ago, he was convinced he had come across paradise. As a young teenager everything he was experiencing was in stark contrast to the urban environment of the Parisian centre he had grown up in.

Gary Bencheghib: Make a Change

Before too long though Gary started to notice a change creeping in, maybe it was that he was seeing things as they really were, and no longer through tourist eyes. He could sense the island he had come to call home was changing in ways he felt were going to damage it on many levels, so, at 15 years of age he created an environmental organisation called "Make a Change Bali".

"Make a Change Bali" aims to promote awareness and educate people on the personal responsibilities and practical solutions that will end Bali's decay and descent into a polluted, rubbish strewn island that no one wants to visit.

With a combination of passion, drive and youth he has what it takes to instigate this change. His beach clean up campaigns have attracted people as diverse as local rock stars and international hoteliers. Jerinx from Balinese band Superman is Dead recently joined forces with Gary to make regular clean ups along the tourist shores of Central Kuta Beach. On any given Saturday you can see young international students, rockabillies and football fans picking between the sunseekers to remove plastic and cigarette butts from the sand.

Education through music is just one way.

While the rubbish in Kuta is mostly benign, on other beach clean ups further a field the clean up crews have been shocked to find discarded medical waste and industrial chemical containers.

This is why, as Gary mentions, it is important to have education, not just for the tourists, but for every level of society in Bali. He wants to work with local government and support them in their efforts to make the change in Bali. He believes by using himself and his friends as examples, attracting the interest of media, including TV and working with bands and local NGOs he can introduce, rather than impose change.

At 15, he is aware that you can't force people to change, you can't tell them what to do. He recounts a story of a beach on the East Coast , where for some time a European woman would conduct regular clean ups but when she left they stopped. He says he understands why: The people had been told to clean up because they needed the beach clean for tourists, no one thought of explaining that they needed the beach clean for themselves, for the safety of their children and to create a cleaner environment for them to live in. The idea of cleaning up to attract tourists is only one tiny aspect of environmental responsibility. Tourists can come and go but if the seas are polluted, what is a small fishing community going to eat?

Pick up trash - no kidding!

On the first weekend in May this year, Gary held an awareness day and invited many of the island’s big environment NGOs to give speeches and have a clean up. Recognising that this would not pull the crowds of thousands that he wanted, he decided to combine his passion for music with his idea and devised an ambitious plan to hold a big rock concert on the beach at Kuta.

With the advantage of his youthful charm and intense sense of purpose he was able to persuade some of Bali's best live acts to perform, to gain the support of the local police and security forces, to be given professional staging and sound equipment through sponsorship of big brand name companies who want to be seen to be contributing to the islands' well being.

This also attracted the interest of the local and international media in both TV and print so Gary hopes more people will hear about Make a Change Bali, and not only appreciate it but copy it for themselves. Gary hopes Make a Change can become an eco-activist franchise where students anywhere can create awareness through activities based on the Make a Change Bali model. He has already traveled to Hong Kong for a Global Issues Conference and begun the networking process amongst his international school peers in other parts of Asia, even spreading the word as far as Hawaii, where an old school friend is beginning Make a Change Hawaii.

Gary has such drive and ambition to see change occur; it is no surprise that his commitment to the environment is something he sees extending into his adult life. Make a Change is something he wants to develop so that when he is University later, possibly in America or Australia he can work with existing groups to keep up the momentum of positive action to preserving the quality of life for generations to come.

Gary rocks with the environmental message.

At 15 he possesses a determination that has helped create change, and he has the vision to see it is not just for now that these things need to happen, it is for the future; not just his future but the future of people who live beyond the privilege of an international education, the future of people who have no support to effect change no matter how much they wish it to be, people who are unable to force large businesses to end their pollution of rivers and streams because they rely on them for jobs.

It is only by understanding people's powerlessness in making change that you can get in and make the connections to make effective change. There needs to be a link between the education and the practices of big business and Gary with his ideas, his vision, his drive and his invaluable supporters is making steps forward to facilitate this.

So, as the day began on Kuta Beach where a huge stage was constructed, sound equipment hauled in and soft drink companies provided refreshments for free. "Make a Change Bali" hosted one of the best outdoor concert events on the beach at Kuta. It attracted a huge crowd that arrived and departed throughout the day enjoying the musical acts, the talks and the giveaways and by sunset the stage was set for a pumping night of rock.

Throughout the event Gary was on the mike applauding the efforts of his sponsors and encouraging people to Make a Change, and then in a moment that must have been exciting the 15-year-old agent of change strapped on his guitar and  joined the musicians on stage for an awesome set of pounding rock.

Contact Make a Change Bali through their facebook page