With an ache in his left foot and a constant pain in his knees, Sam Bencheghib, ‘19, continues to run across the country to spread awareness about plastic pollution and the effects it has on the oceans.
It hasn’t been easy.
After running a total of 20 to 30 miles a day, he has to cook his meals each night, careful not to buy or utilize products containing plastics. Drinking 3 to 4 gallons of water per day, he must refill his water bottle around 20 times. He must find time to edit his videos and post them online while also calling schools and scheduling meetings in advance.
Each day holds uncertainties: Where is he going to end up? What is he going to eat?
He started in New York City on July 26, passing through Lehigh University on the run three months after he graduated. He pushed back his initial take-off date in June, and had taken two months to prepare for the trip instead. At 1,530 miles, he is currently only halfway to Los Angeles, which he expects to reach by Feb. 2, 2020.
He has been meeting with state senators and representatives about legislation that affects pollution. Seventeen states in the U.S. block the ability of municipalities to pass their own ban on plastic, including Pennsylvania. He has most recently met with the Lieutenant Governor of Kansas, Lynn Rogers.
Bencheghib has spoken to about 6 school auditoriums filled with hundreds of students. He said that even if there are only 20 kids in a science class, he says the experience is still rewarding because a smaller group is more engaged to ask questions.
“In all these midwestern states, I don’t think people really understand or realize that plastic pollution is a problem,” Bencheghib said. “I think me going in and talking about it, I definitely see a sparkle in the kids’ eyes, they’re super fascinated that even here in Kansas they can have an impact on ocean pollution from so far away.”
One thing he’d like to see is more Lehigh students taking a stand against plastics.
Though Lehigh Dining has already banned the use of plastic straws, Bencheghib said that there’s so much more that can be done on an individual basis. He suggests changing daily habits like reusing bottles, bags and coffee cups.
“He’s the type of guy that’s always giving a hundred percent no matter what we’re doing,” said Zack Elliott, ‘22, one of Bencheghib’s tennis teammates. He recounted that after tennis home games, Bencheghib would run from Goodman Campus back to his home instead of driving.
When Elliott first heard about Bencheghib’s idea to spread awareness he thought he was joking.
“I was like ‘Yeah, nice one man, I’m definitely running across the country too,” Elliott said. “It sounds completely crazy but I’m not just saying this, if there’s anybody that I know that could do it, it was definitely him. He always had a positive attitude. When he puts his mind to something, usually he’s going to be successful.”
Bencheghib said he talks to Elliott at least once a week. Elliott said the tennis team is having a charity tennis tournament soon and all of the funds that they raise will be donated to Bencheghib’s environmental organization.
Another tennis player, Gary Fishkin, ‘22, said Bencheghib had been the captain of the team when he was a freshman.
“He helped a lot in the assimilation of coming to college, he was a great person to look up to and a very personable guy,” Fishkin said.
Bencheghib never forced environmentalism on his friends.
“We would go out to eat and he would always request no straws but he never policed it, he was simply very passionate about it,” Fishkin said.
Born in Paris, Bencheghib moved to Bali, Indonesia at the age of 7 years old, where he found the island was littered with trash. His passion for the environment took root by age 12 years old, when he took up cleaning the beaches with his brother.
He speaks four languages: French, Indonesian, English and Spanish, because he went to boarding school in Barcelona for two years. He moved to Pennsylvania to attend Lehigh because he wanted to play tennis while studying business.
Bencheghib and his brother, Gary Bencheghib, founded Make A Change World, an organization seeking to spread positive stories and encourage youth to protect the earth. His sister, Kelly, is positioned in Paris and oversees all the logistics, partner relations, sponsorships and some of the social media work as well.
Gary Bencheghib is working on a project in Bali to intercept plastic before it goes out to the ocean.
“Right now I’m just trying to focus on the next big city, all I have in my mind is Denver, Denver, Denver,” Sam Bencheghib said.
He wants to continue working with his sister and brother reducing plastic pollution and protecting the oceans.
“To keep coming up with crazy ideas to raise awareness. I think no idea is crazy enough, and that’s where I see Make A Change World going, combining our passion for adventure, the environment and education. And hopefully becoming the go-to sustainable media company,” Sam Bencheghib said.