Over his two-week Easter break from school, 15-year-old Gary Bencheghib was hard at work. Set on a mission to save Bali’s beaches, he believes the only way to do this is to get more people involved, locals and tourists alike.
“Balinese young people seem to be very influenced by famous Indonesian rock bands,” Bencheghib said. “So I decided to organize a ‘green’ concert. I hope to touch a large number of people and make them individually more concerned about maintaining Bali’s pristine beaches.”
With his 12-year-old brother, Sam, he developed a concert plan, sending proposals to sponsors and NGOs, and designing posters, banners and televised animations to advertise the event.
Thanks to their efforts, this Saturday afternoon six Indonesian rock bands — Superman Is Dead, Navicula, De Buntu, Dialog Dini Hari, Natoena and 55 Frets — will perform live at Bali’s Kuta Beach. About 1,000 people are expected to turn up for what Bencheghib calls the Bali Environment Day Concert.
“With big bands like Superman Is Dead performing, more than a thousand people will come,” he said.
For a first-time concert promoter, Bencheghib has landed some big sponsors, such as Rip Curl and Quiksilver, and some high-profile promotional spots on Bali TV and Hard Rock Radio Bali.
In between the music performances, a number of Bali-based environmental organizations will present short lectures and video presentations on their missions to preserve the island’s pristine environment.
“In the long run, we want to organize this concert as an annual event by making the first of May a day for Bali’s environment,” Bencheghib said.
Organizing the concert meant a huge amount of work and responsibility for the teenager.
Bencheghib enlisted the help of Faiz Lovell, his father’s secretary, to act as translator when he met with local village communities and police to ask for their permission and support for the big event.
“I certainly grew up faster over this past month,” he said.
Since his family relocated from the metropolitan city of Paris to Bali five years ago, Bencheghib has become infatuated with the island’s pristine beaches.
“Coming from an urban place like Paris, where stress floats within the streets and the buildings, my first impression of Bali was that it resembled a paradise,” he said. “It’s a little island that possesses natural and cultural riches. Living here is an existence less superficial and more authentic. It’s like an endless vacation.”
Inspired by his new, pristine surroundings, the eldest son of Catherine and Malik Bencheghib has become more in tune with his musical talents. He is learning to play piano, guitar, bass and drums, and composes his own songs. Last year, he received the internationally recognized grade-five Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music certificate for piano.
Bencheghib, who loves the humanities, also excels at school. Last semester, he passed his exams with high honors. In
March this year, he attended the Global Issues Network Seminar in Hong Kong, hosted by the Chinese International School.
“It was a real opportunity for me to meet young students from different backgrounds, all with the hope to make a change in this world,” he said.
The ocean, however, remains Bencheghibs’s true passion. He loves diving and surfing, as well as running on Bali’s golden beaches in the afternoon.
The copious litter, he says, mars the image of a paradise island.
“Cigarette butts and candy wrappers are scattered everywhere in Kuta,” he said. “In Sanur, the ocean has become a dump of plastic bags and dead seaweed, only meters away from where tourists are sunbathing and local children are swimming. Up north on Amed Beach, syringes lie in between the black oval stones.”
“I couldn’t bear to see these once-pristine beaches turn into trash heaps,” he said.
In October 2009, Bencheghib recruited Sam and five schoolmates to establish Make a Change Bali, an organization aimed at saving Bali’s beaches. They organize weekly beach clean-ups, during which these young students scour the beach to collect inorganic waste.
“Our beach clean-ups often last for an hour,” he said. “On average, we’re able to collect seven bags full of garbage.”
The garbage is then sent to the Eco Bali recycling company.
“It’s a puzzle,” said Paola Cannucciari, founder of Eco Bali, referring to the huge amount of waste collected during the beach clean-ups. “Our lives have become modern and sophisticated, yet in the matter of throwing garbage, we still behave like 2 year olds.”
Since 2005, Cannucciari’s company has been working on sustainable solutions to Bali’s waste disposal problems.
“Almost all waste can be recycled or composted if properly disposed,” she said. “It’s necessary to raise awareness of that. People should start taking responsibility for the waste that they produce.”
Ani Yulinda, program officer of Gelombang Udara Segar (Waves of Fresh Air) Foundation, agreed with her.
“If the people care more about their environment, they’ll certainly look after it,” she said.
The foundation has prepared a 10-minute presentation to be shown during the Bali Environment Day Concert to educate people about waste management.
Through its beach clean-up programs, Make a Change Bali has been gaining popularity. Today, the organization has more than 1,100 members on Facebook. Its first major project will be the Bali Environment Day Concert.
“We’re very excited about this concert,” said Lia Pasaribu, manager of punk band Superman Is Dead. “We admire the efforts of these young people in organizing the concert. It’s about time the young generation takes the initiative to do something for the environment.”
Lia added that environmental issues had long been at the top of the band’s concerns. On several occasions, the band members have joined the beach clean-ups organized by Make a Change Bali.
As a major independent music group in Indonesia, Superman Is Dead has a lot fans who look up to it, Lia said. She said she believed this presented it with an opportunity to make a major difference in society.
“People listen to SID,” Lia said. “Therefore, we try to voice these environmental concerns more loudly and give a good example for people to follow. It may not leave a big impact now. But in time, if we’re all consistent in our efforts, people will become more concerned and protect their environment.”
Before every performance in Bali, SID cruises along the beach on low-rider bicycles to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint.
“This has now become an icon for our shows,” Lia said. “Our fans look forward to it and local bike communities often join us on our cruises.”
Superman Is Dead has prepared a set list of 15 songs to perform during the Bali Environment Day Concert.
Navicula, a Bali-based grunge band, is also excited about taking part in the concert.
“It’s remarkable how an expatriate 15-year-old student cares enough to organize this big event to save Bali’s beaches,” said Dankie, guitarist of Navicula. “The locals should learn from this effort. In fact, local communities should be front-liners in conserving their own natural surroundings.”
The band will perform eight songs, including “Pantai Mimpi” (“Dream Beach”), which comments on the current deteriorating state of Bali’s beaches.
“My dream is that one day everybody, including the Balinese, tourists and surfers, will be aware and make an effort to protect Bali’s beaches,” Bencheghib said. “But until then, one thing is certain: that I will always be involved in preserving and protecting the environment.”
He said his next projects would include educational videos on natural conservation to encourage people to get more involved and working with local NGOs. He also plans to finish high school in Bali and obtain his International Baccalaureate diploma before pursuing his secondary studies either in the United States or Australia .
Bencheghib has traveled to more than 24 countries for short trips and vacations, but he says that he feels at home in Bali.
“Wherever I’ll be in the world, I’ll always come back here,” he said. “I’ll always try to protect my sweet home, Bali.”