Little Girl, Big Message : Little Amal’s Visit to Philadelphia

Little Amal at the corner of Parkway & 17th on Thursday, September 14 | Eleanor Black
Little Amal at the corner of Parkway & 17th on Thursday, September 14 | Eleanor Black

Little Amal a twelve foot puppet arrived in Philadelphia Wednesday, September 13 continuing her journey spreading empathy and awareness.

The puppet of  a 10 year old Syrian refugee who began her journey, The Walk, in July of 2021. Little Amal’s journey began when she crossed the Syrian border to Turkey and eventually across Europe. Little Amal walks to remind us of millions of displaced children, fleeing from violence, persecution, and war. The Walk attempts to shift the cultural mindset surrounding refugees and migrants to one of love and compassion while simultaneously gathering funds for refugee children. 

Little Amal represents the roughly 43.3 million children displaced due to conflict and violence at the end of 2022. Children are disproportionately represented in refugees, making up less than one third of the global population, but over 41% of refugees. Like Little Amal, these children are often scared and alone-separated from their parents in an unfamiliar new space. In 2020, 21,000 children applied for refuge alone, without any parent or guardian to aid them. These children are often forced to navigate a strange, and terrifying environment, alone, scared and tired. 

Little Amal began her journey in Philadelphia at 1100 Wharton, where she wound through South Philly street surrounded by children from neighboring schools, supporters and staff who orchestrated Little Amal’s arrival walk. 

Little Amal leans her head against the LOVE statue at the end of her protest | Eleanor Black

Little Amal’s first walk incorporated students from neighboring schools. Theatre Exile, a nonprofit theater company located at S 13th street, organized students from Danny Jackson Coppin and Christopher Columbus Charter schools to create a play honoring Little Amal’s journey. David Lan, co-producer of The Walk describes introducing prospective partners to their role in The Walk, “‘Here’s the deal: a 10-year-old refugee child is going to arrive in your locality — South Philadelphia,” he said. “She’s gonna be tired. She’ll be hungry. She’ll have walked a long way. How would you make her feel welcome in your neighborhood?”

Little Amal’s message transcends ideology, race, background class and creed. Little Amal is not representative of an agenda or political party, rather a little girl, lost and alone, looking for a place to call home. 

Little Amal reminds us of the millions of refugee children left unrepresented and marginalized without saying a word. The Artistic Director of The Walk Amir Nizar Zuabi explains, “There’s a huge leap of faith when you’re working with puppetry, She’s a silent puppet. The audience starts trying to figure out what she’s thinking about, and that is already a great act of empathy.”

Little Amal encourages us to foster empathy not through speeches or spectacles but through her authentic performance. By portraying their message through Little Amal’s actions, and not words, the organizers of The Walk create a message that transcends the limits of borders or language.

When, at her final walk in Philadelphia, Little Amal rests her head against the LOVE statue or holds the hands of children shouting “We love Little Amal” her supporters are not moved to tears because of the eloquence of her message but the simplicity of the gestures. Little Amal inspires empathy because she communicates directly to our hearts without need for words.

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