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22 Oct 2021

Little Amal, a puppet of a refugee girl, has walked 5,000km across Europe
BY Tom Walker

The puppet is an artistic project, representing all young refugees

The puppet is an artistic project, representing all young refugees
photo: The Walk

A puppet of a refugee girl has 'walked' across Europe on a 5,000km (3,100m) journey, with the help of eleven puppeteers and is now nearing the end of her journey from Syria to the UK.

Called Little Amal – a name meaning 'hope' in Arabic – she has been created as part of an artistic project representing the story of all young refugees who are forced to flee war-torn Syria and embark on their risky journey to safety.

Little Amal has been imagined as a nine-year-old who has fled her war-torn country in search of her mother. She symbolises tens of thousands of children who are fighting to find their way into education and to a place where they can rebuild their lives.

The project is called "The Walk" and is described as a travelling festival of art and hope in support of refugees, with artistic direction from Amir Nizar Zuabi.

Little Amal was brought to life by South Africa-based Handspring Puppet Company, a collective that achieved fame for creating the horses that featured in the stage play War Horse.

Puppeteers have walked her from the Turkey-Syria border through Europe to the UK in what has been described as one of the most ambitious public artworks ever undertaken.

"This is an extraordinary artistic response: a cultural odyssey transcending borders, politics and language to tell a new story of shared humanity – and to ensure the world doesn’t forget the millions of displaced children, each with their own story, who are more vulnerable than ever during the global pandemic," said The Walk team in a statement.

"Little Amal represents all displaced children, many separated from their families, embodying the urgent message 'Don’t forget about us'."

Little Amal's journey has taken her through eight countries, including Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, France and the UK.

Since arriving in the UK, the puppet has embarked on a mini-tour of the country, during which she will visit Canterbury, London, Oxford, Coventry, Birmingham, Sheffield and Barnsley, before the journey finally ends in Manchester on 3 November.

Handspring Puppet Company was founded in 1981 and has grown under the leadership of artistic director Adrian Kohler and executive producer Basil Jones.

Based in Cape Town, the company provides an artistic home and professional base for a core group of performers, designers, theatre artists and technicians.

The Walk has been accompanies by a fundraising campaign, The Amal Fund, which is already half way to its £30k target. You can donate here.

The Guardian reports that Little Amal has met with support and hostility during her travels, being banned in some countries and welcomed in others.

About Little Amal

Because Little Amal has needed to travel 8,000km, crossing many contrasting terrains, the Handspring Puppet Company needed to build a puppet capable of such a physical challenge.

Handspring crafted Little Amal from robust but lightweight materials such as cane and carbon fibre so that she could be operated for extended periods of time in varying conditions.

It takes four puppeteers to bring Little Amal to life: one on each arm, one supporting her back and one inside walking on stilts. This fourth puppeteer also controls ‘the harp’, a complex tapestry of strings that animate Little Amal’s face, head and eyes.

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