Happy Women’s Day to all the readers.
Today, in this interview we are talking to Agartha Frimpong, a Ghanaian lady settled in Amsterdam Southeast who runs a Cycle Training course for migrants in the Netherlands.
Cycling is a ‘National Dutch Identity’ and important life skill that enables the migrant and refugee women better integrate into Dutch society.
Agartha Frimpong helps the migrant women to learn this elementary skill and let go of their fear through a 12 week training program in which they group once a week and learn how to ride a bicycle.
Agartha’s training course ends with a graduation ceremony where the students receive their diplomas and take on to the streets of Amsterdam with renewed confidence.
The women in Agartha’s course come from all corners of the world, speak different languages, represent different cultures and religion but what unifies them is a ‘bicycle’.
Agartha believes ‘cycling encourages them to explore their own skills and empowers them to find their own way into society on two wheels’.
‘Mama Agatha’ is a heart-warming documentary based on Agartha Frimpong’s life story about letting go of the past and the freedom of riding a bicycle.
The 16 minute documentary is made by Fadi Hindash, a filmmaker of Palestinian origin and now lives in the Netherlands.
One day Fadi was sipping coffee standing on a terrace with his friend and saw a group of veiled Moroccan women taking cycling lessons on streets of Amsterdam. A funny sight at first, women on a bicycle moving in all angels to keep her robes getting stuck in the wheels, but meaningful portray of clash of cultures.
Fadi Hindash researched on this topic and decided to make a documentary on Agartha Frimpong’s initiative and named it ‘Mama Agatha’.
The film shows how a simple idea of a ‘Cycling Course’ can have a massive impact and improves the life of marginalized social groups. Mama Agatha highlights the fact that cycling in Netherlands is not just about physical mobility but also includes social mobility.
Mama Agatha was released in 2015 and is screened in many countries and won several awards at international film festivals. In 2019, in celebration of International Women’s Day, the full documentary was made free for public viewing on YouTube.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the film maker for bringing out this inspiring story to a larger world. On the 5th anniversary of this soul-stirring documentary, I extend my deep gratitude to Agartha Frimpong for her participation in this interview.
How did the idea of starting a ‘Cycle Training’ classes came to you?
The idea of Cycling classes came to my mind after an incident that happened with a Ghanaian lady who died as a result of heart attack. I realized that most immigrants do not condone to the idea of exercising because of that I decided to start this initiative.
I communicated with some member of Gemeente Zuidoost (local municipality), they were very eager to assist and that’s how this whole idea became a reality.
Do you think teaching Cycling as a fundamental skill has brought a change in your life?
Teaching cycling as a fundamental skill has brought a lot of change into my life. In that today a lot of women not only within the Ghanaian community, are engaging in a lot of physical training activities, most people are now leaving healthy lives.
Aside all these it has enlarged my network, I am now connected to a lot of high profile people within the community as well as a lot of women in general.
Tell us about your team who supports you in running this program profitably – financially and socially?
The Gemeente Amsterdam Zuidoost has been of immense help towards my team both financially and socially since its enactment.
It was Fadi Hindash and Mr. Marek (The Sound of Applause) the two of them made the documentary film ‘Mama Agatha’ about me and my team and have secured a permanent space in history of our institute.
Immigrants typically find hard to adapt to any new culture, how is cycling helping them bridge the cultural gap?
Initially, it was very tough for most migrant women but as time went on with the inclusive of fun activities they get adapted to it. We have all now become more like a family encouraging each other to realize the importance of physical training to our daily lives.
Transportation in Dutch cities is all about cycling. How crucial it is for a migrant woman to learn this mobility skill?
It’s very true that the Dutch Transportation system is all about cycling, most women now are encouraged because of this knowledge they have come to appreciate the fact that they can mobilize with freedom and are part of the system.
What progress do you see in your student’s attitude and sentiments once they finish the certification?
I see their activities especially with most mothers who have younger kids, they’re able to ride their kids to schools, most women are able to ride to their workplace. Also, those with knee issues in most times testify as to how cycling has helped ease those pains. When I hear and see these things I become very excited and motivated to do more.
What was your reaction when the film director Fadi Hindash approached you for making a documentary about your work?
I was very excited and felt really proud of myself when Fadi Hindash approached me for this documentary. I realized I have reached a wider audience and a lot more of other audience will be reached through this medium so yes, I was really excited and proud.
How did you feel when you 1st saw the movie on the big screen?
I cried, felt appreciated and motivated. I was reminded of how all of these came into past and encouraged myself that our past do not determine our future. We have got the future and we determine what happens so truly. I was emotional seeing how far we have come.
A phrase that best describes Mama Agatha?
What I will say best describes is what people note me for I am a ‘Community Mother’ and a mother for all. And that’s how most people know me to be. Mama Agartha is the mother for all.
On this Women’s day, what is your message to the women who hesitate to cycle?
What I will say to all women who hesitate to cycle is ‘we can never underestimate the power and relevance of physical exercise. Again nothing should prevent any women to undermine her physical health. If you’re in the Amsterdam Zuidoost, I encourage you to join us we are one big family with our focus on good health through cycling’.
One change you would like to see in the world?
One change I will like to see happen in this world is seeing each one of us encouraging one another to reach its utmost height in life.
Watch the movie : Mama Agatha – an Amsterdam cycling documentary
Photos: Mama Agatha
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai