The Indonesia-based French environmental activist Gary Bencheghib, 26, who founded the Sungai Watch (River Watch) movement, is one of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay awardees.
He was among the four awardees of what is considered "Asia’s premier prize and highest honor" and is often likened to the Nobel Prize. It aims to "honor the greatness of spirit shown in service to the peoples of Asia."
The 2022 Ramon Magsaysay Award was announced on August 31. The other three winners are Pediatrician and children’s rights advocate Bernadette J. Madrid (Philippines), Cambodian psychiatrist and mental health advocate Sotheara Chim, Japanese opthalmologist and humanitarian Tadashi Hattori.
Bencheghib and Sungai Watch communities are actively engaged in preserving, cleaning rivers, and dispelling plastic waste from flowing into the sea.
After doing research, Bencheghib found out that most of the garbage in the ocean is carried away by the rivers. The focus of cleaning the garbage is then shifted from the beach to the river. River Watch was born for river sustainability.
The story begins in 2005, when Bencheghib and his family moved from Paris, France, and settled in Bali, Indonesia.
"We refused to let the beautiful and amazing nature of Bali be littered with garbage," he says.
He invites young people in Bali to engage in protecting nature, starting with the river.
"I grew up on this magical island since the age of nine and very quickly saw the rapid impacts of plastic pollution. Every rainy season, Bali becomes the island of plastic," says Bencheghib.
When he was 14 years old, he decided to do something about it and started cleaning up the beaches every weekend. Over time, their activities became an environmental movement that involved many people. Thirteen years later, after having traveled to some of the worst rivers in the world, he was on a full mission to clean up Indonesia's rivers with Sungai Watch.
This experience motivated Bencheghib to establish Sungai Watch in 2020. Sungai Watch is a public movement that focuses on preserving rivers in Bali by cleaning up trash. To date, Sungai Watch has only operated in most of the regencies in Bali.
Sungai Watch's mission is to protect and restore Indonesia's rivers by developing and designing simple technologies to stop the flow of plastic pollution from going to the ocean.
There are more than 1,000 volunteers who join Sungai Watch to clean up the river. Most of them are young people aged 16–28 years.
Bencheghib organized different environmental awareness in villages and approached young men and women to join in preserving and cleaning the rivers.
According to him, a sustainable river is the pride of Bali, so every citizen needs to be involved.
Starting from rivers in Bali, Bencheghib then expanded the reach of Sungai Watch to the island of Java.
He is currently conducting research for expansion in Asia and Latin America.
The purpose of choosing this river was not arbitrary. Indonesia, which is an archipelagic country and blessed with many rivers, also has many dirty rivers. This is due to the lack of public awareness that oftentimes throws garbage into the river.
"In Indonesia, the river is like a trash can, the worst place you do not want to go. So it is important for us to start thinking about cleaning the rivers because having clean rivers means having clean seas," explains Bencheghib.
Through Sungai Watch, Bencheghib also created a trash barrier to prevent the garbage from flowing into the sea.
From October 2020 until now, there have been 145 barriers installed, cleaning up 593,113 kg of plastic trash and 437,997 kg of organic waste.
Before founding Sungai Watch in 2020, Bencheghib, who is a graduate of the New York Film Academy, changed the focus of the "Make A Change" platform to become an environmental media outlet that produces films and short videos about the environment.
The goal is to inspire and raise public awareness of the importance of protecting the environment.
He studied in New York, United States, and worked as an intern at Vice on HBO and as a post-production assistant at VICE Media after completing his education.
He then uses his knowledge to contribute to Indonesia, where he has lived for more than 20 years in the environmental atmosphere of the "Make A Change" platform.
The media now has hundreds of videos related to the environment that can be watched on its website at "Making a Change World" or on the Make A Change YouTube channel.
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.