Get Familiar: Bijlmer Run
We are delighted to have the opportunity to interview Charita Zandgrond who alongside Yosie Groen founded the Bijlmer Run in 2022, a community organization that promotes sports, health, and social cohesion in Amsterdam's Bijlmer neighborhood. Charita is an accomplished runner, educator, and advocate for physical activity. As we speak with Charita, we will explore the origins and vision of Bijlmer Run, the impact it has had on the community, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. We will get familiar with Charita's personal journey and her work within the neighbourhood as well as discover the transformative power of running and community engagement.
Can you tell us a bit about your role and experience working at MBO College Zuidoost over the past few years?
I have been working for MBO College Zuidoost for 12.5 years in various positions such as a teacher, internship coordinator and project leader. In recent years I have mainly focused on diversity and inclusion. My motivation has always been to have an eye for individual and talent development. In my position as project leader D&I, I find it particularly interesting to highlight the similarities between groups of people in order to create more understanding for each other based on human interest and involvement.
You've mentioned that Southeast Amsterdam has a negative image, can you elaborate on what you mean by that and why you think it's important to challenge that perception?
In the media, Southeast often talks about the negative events in the district. It is the district where the least amount of municipal money is spent on talent development and art and culture. I have often heard from students that there parents would rather not have them attend school in the district because of the large population of non-western students. I believe in self-fulfilling prophecy, if fyou focus on the negative of a person, group or community, all outcomes will also be negative. And then all the negative images, like the example in the media will be confirmed.
It is important because image change initially for the residents themselves. They must believe in their own strength. Through financial injections, education, sports, art and cultural projects, they deserve to get the chance to dream and to believe in their own worth. To be respected as a full citizen. That starts with believing in yourself and your own community. But also the negative image and stereotyping need to change . In recent decades major developments have taken place that deserve to be seen.
What inspired you to organize a run in Southeast Amsterdam, and how did you go about making it a reality?
Running is my hobby and Zuidoost has my heart. The idea came to me during a long run that ended on Anton de Komplein. Edson heart of the idea trough a mutual friend Lieke Koningen. I meet Yosie Groen through that same network. Edson was inspired to do something in Zuidoost and Yosie had experience setting up running events. That’s how it al started. The most important values of the Bijlmer Run are moving, connecting and discovering.
How do you believe running contributes to a positive mindset, and how has it helped you personally?
I believe that every sport contributes to a positive mindset and better functioning of body and mind, and running is that for me. I am a solo runner. I love to go for a morning run before the day starts when the streets are quiet and dark (in winter). It activate my body and set an intention for that day. It’s actually my meditation moment. After such a start I feel that I start the day stronger. That energy carries me through the day.
Can you talk about the importance of community and collaboration in organizing events like the Bijlmer Run?
In a community, togetherness and collective experience are central. We humans are group animals and like to join a group in which we recognize ourselves. Sports brings people together and transcends ethnicity, religion, age or socio- economic status. The individual performance becomes a group performance. Whether you contribute as a participant, spectator, volunteer or sponsor. The commitment, strength, discharge, love, fraternization and joy is the outcome of togetherness.
What do you hope participants take away from the Bijlmer Run, and how do you hope it impacts the larger community?
I hope they experience Southeast at its best, the hospitality, the diversity and the creativity. I hope that encounters will take place that otherwise would not have happened. Ik hope it increases curiosity about people who are not in their own network. I want the Bijlmer run to be an event for and by the residents of Southeast. Something they can be proud of and which people outside Southeast would like to participate. That the negative image is invalidated and revised.
How do you see your work at MBO College Zuidoost and your involvement in the Bijlmer Run intersecting?
As a project leader at MBO College is was able to build a network in Southeast. My field of work was not only education, but also the work field and social initiatives. I used this network and knowledge when setting up the Bijlmer Run. MBO College is one of are sponsors. As an educational institution, they consider it important to be visible in the district. We both think Diversity and inclusion is an important topic.
Can you share any challenges you faced in organizing the run and how you overcame them?
The biggest challenge is finding a sustainable sponsor contract. This year we managed to bind many smaller sponsors to us. My wish is to find a sponsor in a multinational located in Southeast for at least a couple of years that believes in our mission, vision and decisiveness. In a few years’ time, the Bijlmer Run must have grown into the most fun and inclusive running event in the country.
What do you see as the future of Southeast Amsterdam and its residents, and how do you hope to contribute to that future through your work and initiatives like the Bijlmer Run?
Difficult question. I only hope that the Bijlmer Run contributes to fraternization, vitality and solidarity. I want the Bijlmer Run to be an event for and by the residents of Southeast. Something they can be proud of and in which people outside Southeast would like to participate. I want it to be something positive.