How a 3.5m tall puppet called Little Amal ‘walked’ 8,000 km across Europe in 2021
The spark of the idea for Little Amal was brilliant in its simplicity – it was just “for a walk,” says Tracey Seaward, one of the producers of the activist-inspired traveling theatrical show.
âThe heart of the project was to go for a walk and get the message ‘don’t forget us’,â Seaward says. âDon’t forget the thousands of people who are on the move or have moved, or the millions who will be on the move in the future. “
It is with this aim – to give more visibility to the difficult choices and paths of refugees and asylum seekers – that the âWalkâ project was conceived three and a half years ago.
The result was an imposing 3.5 meter tall puppet, created by the award winning Handspring Puppet Company, making a 5,000 mile journey from Turkey to the UK until 2021 – starting in Gaziantep on the Turkish border. Syrian in July and ending in Manchester, UK on November 3. As Seaward puts it, the project “has grown into an incredibly ambitious traveling festival of art, hope and hospitality.”
Running the vast enterprise of the trip itself as well as dozens of community events along the way, Seaward, film and television producer and director of the Choose Love refugee charity, was also joined by former director of the Young Vic theater, David Lan. as director and director Stephen Daldry, and the Good Chance theater company.
Good Chance was founded by Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy in 2015 and focuses on untold world stories, originally starting with providing a creative response to the infamous Calais Refugee Camp, with its play The jungle. Its artistic director Amir Nizar Zuabi, a Palestinian playwright, oversaw the vision of the Little Amal promenade. During this time, no less than nine skilled puppeteers were also involved, working in teams of three at a time to operate the towering figure.
While the ‘The Walk’ part of Amal’s trip officially ended when she ‘found a home’ in Manchester, it made sense for her to continue and go to the United Nations Climate Change Conference. COP26 in Glasgow to “bring its message to world leaders,” says Seaward. âThe accumulation of voices that Amal represents are just not being heard,â she adds.
Little Amal represents a 9-year-old Syrian refugee, but she also represents all unaccompanied children, many of whom could be climate refugees, Seaward says. So, she spent an entire week in Glasgow and participated in the one-day opening plenary at the summit dedicated to gender and climate change, as well as a number of other events in the city.
Little Amal arriving in Dover, Justin Sutcliffe
âTwelve years ago, droughts in Syria contributed to the conflict, one of the many factors that contributed to civil unrest in Syria,â Seaward adds. âAs we know, there are so many unaccompanied minors and internally displaced children who are subject to exploitation who make these trips around the world now. We chose the route from Syria to the UK but we could have chosen a route through Latin America, through Africa.
“There is an intersection between the climate movement and migrant justice, and of course, she is a powerful voice for that intersection,” she continues.
Watch now! The entire TED talk from our artistic director Amir Nizar Zuabi is now available on https://t.co/Hg3SlQ3aPY!
– Little Amal (La Marche) (@walkwithamal) August 14, 2021
Seaward adds that when they first worked on the idea for Little Amal and thought about how she would “present”, they first imagined her as being more vulnerable. “But then we realized that she was shrill, that she was powerful and that she follows in the footsteps of the young women we admire so much like Greta Thunberg and Malala. [Yousafzai]”Seaward continued.” His role now reflects that. “
Now that âThe Walkâ and the COP26 summit are over, Little Amal and the myriad of creators and organizations who made his trip a reality will take a break to reflect on what happened and what happened. Little Amal could do next. Seaward says fundraising and managing the border crossing project has been particularly difficult amid a global pandemic, when travel was restricted.
âWhen we started the journey, we weren’t necessarily sure if people would react, but people came out by the hundreds of thousands. She’s like a lightning rod, âsays Seaward.
âAs we passed through the communities, the welcome was so deep,â she continues. âWe met artists, thousands of children, mayors of cities opened their doors, as well as religious leaders – in the Vatican she was greeted by Pope Francis, she went to Canterbury Cathedral and she was greeted by a mosque in Manchester. . “
Along with the highlights, Seaward says the best parts of the trip were unforeseen moments where Little Amal struck a chord with the audience who came to greet her.
âThere was a point in Naples where a man presented Amal with the diary of his 12-year-old daughter who had been killed,â Seaward said. âThere were some really poignant moments. “
Little Amal in Italy, Abdul Saboor
When they reached the UK, Little Amal passed through an area of ââBirmingham with a large Syrian population and families came out to see, Seaward continued. âMany of the children who came out had the Syrian flag painted on their faces and said, ‘She is us. “
The team wanted to keep in the foreground the message “do not forget us” and for this, the traveling event was also accompanied by an educational team, who animated workshops and programs in the places they crossed. .
“They teach people things like Kindertransport [a rescue effort that took thousands of predominantly Jewish children out of Germany and Austria during the Second World War], when the UK opened its doors to 20,000 children and took them in without thinking, âSeaward said.
It is about “educating people so that they are no longer afraid” of taking in refugees in the future, she said. âWe have tried to create a thread of community and connection through the places we have visited throughout the 8,000 km and we hope that this sense of community and connection will be extended to people who follow in Amal’s strides. . “