Little Amal walks through DC to spread awareness for refugees

After traveling over 6,000 miles visiting towns and cities across the country, 12-foot tall puppet Little Amal stopped in Washington D.C. on its mission to promote human rights — especially for refugees.

The global theater project, called “The Walk,” features the not-so-little puppet of Amal, whose name means “hope” in Arabic. The traveling exhibit tells the story of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl looking for her family.

The puppet has traveled worldwide, including stops in Paris, London and Amsterdam.

“We are trying our best to tell the story of a 10-year-old who’s walking around the world lost, afraid, confused but also resilient and brave,” Amir Nizar Zuabi, Little Amal’s artistic director, told The Hill. “So she’s a mixture of vulnerability and resilience.”

Little Amal represents refugees across the world— especially children, who make up half of all refugees, according to the project’s website.

Though Little Amal is a puppet, organizers worked to humanize her and allow the audience to welcome her as a personal visitor. Zuabi said this serves as a perfect example of how to welcome and help those in need.

“It’s always beautiful to see that a community comes together to take care of somebody else,” he said.

Little Amal made multiple stops in the D.C. area, each with a theatrical “event of welcome” organized by local cultural institutions and artists. But for some attendees, the event was more than just a walk.

“I was raised in Syria and I moved here because of the civil war in Syria,” said Amina Skouti, a recent Masters graduate at George Mason University, who was attending the walk. “I’m not a refugee, but I have a lot of family who are refugees.”

“For me to see this, it’s really important and it makes me feel happy that all these people are coming in and joining,” she added.

Zuabi said the stop in D.C. was an important one as the U.S. continues to confront issues of immigration and displacement. As a world leader, he said, the U.S. is “one of the global engines of thinking and policymaking.”

“We are here both on the capacity of it being the American capital, but also it being a worldwide capitol,” Zuabi said. “This is probably the seats of power globally.”

He added he thinks of the event as the “big girl comes to where the big decisions are made.”

The puppet was designed and built by Handspring Puppet Company, which also made the iconic puppets in the hit play “War Horse.”

Zuabi said puppetry was an impactful medium to tell Little Amal’s story as it “immediately asks the audience to participate.”

“The audience is not just a spectator, especially when she doesn’t speak and she’s silent,” he said. “The audience is participating because they’re trying to translate what’s happening into thoughts.”

It takes four puppeteers to control Amal, with one person holding each arm, one supporting her back and one inside walking on stilts. The puppeteer on the inside also controls the strings, or “the harp,” that animate Amal’s face, head and eyes.

Little Amal has visited 15 countries since July 2021 and will continue its trip across the U.S. until November.

However, Little Amal isn’t walking only to spread a message. Every step she takes helps raise money for the Amal fund, which provides academic training, education and supplies such as food, shelter and medical services for refugees.

Zuabi says he hopes the project will create an emotional experience for people who witness Little Amal, saying he wants to “crack indifference” for those in need so they aren’t seen as a burden.

“Indifference is our biggest enemy,” he said. “As long as we care, we’re okay. We just need to make sure we care.”

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