Christa McAuliffe, Sunflower students meet marathoner combating plastic pollution

Sam Bencheghib, co-founder of Make a Change World, spoke to students at Christa McAuliffe and Sunflower elementary schools on Tuesday morning.

When a young Sam Bencheghib saw the detrimental effects of plastic waste polluting his home island of Bali, he knew he could no longer stand idly and do nothing.

Ten years later, he stood before a classroom of students at Christa McAuliffe Elementary, urging them to look around, see the damage caused by plastic, and make a change in their world.

Bencheghib is in the middle of the United States this week, exactly halfway through a series of marathons that are taking him across the country. The marathon-a-day from New York City to Los Angeles is his tool to raise awareness of plastic pollution in American rivers and streams and connect with Americans to spark change in their home environment.

“What’s amazing is when I talk to these kids, their eyes light up, and they see a potential for change,” he said. “They see a potential to create action.”

Christa McAuliffe students learned about the plastic pollution flowing from rivers and streams into the oceans.

He and his brother, Gary Bencheghib, co-founded Make a Change World to combat the effects of plastic pollution in Bali. Now, he’s hoping to spread awareness by talking to politicians, civic leaders and young people like the students at Christa McAuliffe and Sunflower elementary schools about the scope of the problems surrounding pollution — and the possibility of solutions.

While in northeast Johnson County, he is drawing attention to the Missouri River in hopes that people will increase efforts to reduce the amount of plastics and trash that could end up in the river and eventually pollute the oceans.

He’d also like to see state legislators across the country pledge to ban plastics, but some states have a ban against prohibiting the use of plastics.

“The biggest goal would be to get as many people on board the conversation (and) realize there’s so much individual actions that can be done, whether that’s to reduce your plastic consumption, to create a plogging (jogging and picking up trash) with your friends, to organize a city cleanup, a neighborhood cleanup,” he said. “I think there’s just a lot of actions that can be done, and also hopefully inspire people that no idea is crazy enough when it comes to the environment in a time of such environmental concern.”

Lindsey Constance, a teacher at Christa McAuliffe who also co-leads MetroKC Climate Action Coalition, invited the Make a Change marathoner to speak to students in her building.

Bencheghib said he’s only been in Kansas for less than two weeks, but he’s impressed by the work already underway by environmental advocates. He’s met with members of Metro KC Climate Action Coalition, including Shawnee Councilmember Lindsey Constance, who introduced him to the Shawnee Mission students.

“I would say students are really concerned about the issue of plastics,” Constance said. “It’s something tangible, visible. They see the images on the internet, and they know it’s a problem. It’s right there. They can take action.

“What I wanted kids to understand is that you can link your own passion to solving a problem. I wanted them to see a real-live example of someone who’s not that much older than them who did that very thing.”