Little Amal, a giant puppet made to look like a young Syrian girl, will travel almost 8,000 kilometres from the Turkey-Syria border to the UK in 2021 to bring attention to the experiences faced by refugee children.
Amal is part of a travelling art festival called The Walk, which aims to share an urgent message from refugees: “Don’t forget about us.” The group will meet with refugee communities across Europe and share their stories with the international community.
The puppet will travel through 70 cities, towns, and villages across Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and the UK to unite with her puppet mother, return to puppet school, and build a new puppet life in a safe country. The project will end when Amal arrives for the Manchester International Festival in July 2021.
Amal will primarily shed a light on the Syrian refugee crisis.
The Syrian civil war began in March 2011, forcing millions of Syrians to choose between living through war and embarking on a dangerous journey to a new country.
Because of the war, 5.6 million Syrians are refugees and another 6.2 million people are displaced within Syria, according to World Vision. At least half of those displaced are children.
As the war dragged on, global attention on the crisis waned and efforts have been made by the humanitarian community to renew support for the end of the conflict.
The Walk project is led by Good Chance Theatre, a British theatre company dedicated to using the arts to enact social change, in collaboration with Handspring Puppet Company. Amir Nizar Zuabi, a Palestinian playwright and director, is the project's artistic director.
Good Chance Theatre’s co-founders Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson first decided they wanted to amplify refugees’ stories when they visited the Calais refugee camp in 2015. After observing the destitution throughout the camp, they created The Jungle, a critically-acclaimed play that highlighted the stories of refugees living in the camp.
Amal was first featured in The Jungle to represent the hundreds of unaccompanied minors living in the Calais refugee camp. Following the play’s success, Murphy and Robertson felt that her character had more to say about child refugees.
Refugees often experience mental health issues as a result of forced migration, war, trauma, and being separated from their families and loved ones. Conditions in camps or in informal shelters make it difficult to access health care to treat physical conditions, let alone mental health problems.
Refugee children are also at risk of child labour or child marriage, and shifting family dynamics often lead to young children taking on more responsibilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education across the world and pushed 1.6 billion children out of school, according to the United Nations. Since refugee children are particularly at risk of missing out on school, The Walk plans to raise awareness about the lack of access to education for young refugees, especially girls.
Although the COVID-19 crisis has captured much of the international community’s attention, refugees are still facing hardships and are one of the most at-risk groups during the pandemic.
The Walk is part of a broader effort to ensure refugees receive the humanitarian aid they need during the pandemic and beyond.
“It is more important than ever to reignite the conversation about the refugee crisis and to change the narrative around it,” Zuabi said in a statement.
To ensure that Amal could travel across Europe, the Handspring Puppet company designed the doll from lightweight materials like cane and carbon fibre. Four puppeteers will have to work together to bring Amal to life.
Amal's height is meant to inspire countries to rise up to welcome refugees.
“We want her to inspire us to think big and to act bigger,” Zuabi said.
As Amal travels through Europe, she will stop at various destinations to engage and interact with refugee communities, attending gatherings from from celebratory welcome events to nature walks to city-wide festivals.
“We hope that every encounter with Amal will strengthen the bonds with refugees that already exist as well as, perhaps, suggesting news ways to think about the meaning of ‘community’ and ‘home,’” Good Chance wrote.
In Izmir, a western city in Turkey, cultural heritage organization Yaren Cooperative will host a folk dance performance for the puppet. In Italy, Amal will walk through an outdoor gallery where images by Tammam Azzam, a distinguished Syrian artist, will be projected onto city streets. Azzam’s work shows destroyed buildings in Syria and the impact of war.
Beyond the art festival, The Walk runs in tandem with Step Forward, an educational program that will empower refugees to use art to celebrate stories of migration.
“At this unprecedented time of global change,” Good Chance Theater wrote. “The Walk is an extraordinary artistic response.”