Little Amal sets off: giant puppet of refugee starts walk across Europe

The Walk, a four-month journey overland from Turkey to Britain, includes several artistic events along the way.

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A giant moving puppet set off overnight on a four-month journey across Europe to highlight the plight of child migrants.

Little Amal, the 3.5-metre marionette representing a young refugee, took her first steps on Tuesday through the streets of Gaziantep along the Syrian-Turkish border with real-life Syrian refugee children walking alongside.

It marked the start of The Walk, an 8,000-kilometre journey across the continent that will end in England in November. The project’s artistic director says Little Amal’s colossal size is meant to inspire people to “think big and act bigger”.

“The attention of the world is elsewhere right now, which makes it more important than ever to reignite the conversation about the refugee crisis and to change the narrative around it. Yes, refugees need food and blankets, but they also need dignity and a voice,” said Amir Nizar Zuabi.

Good Chance, the artistic organisation behind the project, said it wanted to “push the boundaries of what art can achieve”.

The theatre group was founded in September 2015 by playwrights Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, creators of the multi-award-winning play The Jungle, which was based on their experiences living and running a theatre in the unofficial refugee and migrant camp in France’s Calais.

“Since Good Chance began, we’ve found ourselves at the forefront of the argument for art’s importance in humanitarian crises; for art’s disarming power to bring people together and to tell human stories,” said the group’s producer, Naomi Webb.

Hundreds of international partners are supporting Little Amal on her journey, from theatres, community groups, and arts and humanitarian organisations to local government and civic society.

Several high-profile ambassadors are also attached to the project. They include the Syrian director and producer Waad Al Kataeb and actors Jude Law, Youssef Kerkour and Gillian Anderson, who called The Walk an “ingenious way” to “support, educate, advocate and inspire”.

“Refugees have voices full of shared experiences that we all need to hear, including millions of children who are now more vulnerable than ever and young girls desperate for education. Never has there been a more integral moment than the present to support the artistic community and I’m in awe of the depth of this project,” the US actress said.

Three puppeteers operate Little Amal, allowing her to “walk” through Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium before reaching England in October. While the hope is to raise awareness on the plight of unaccompanied children, Little Amal will encounter several art installations, performances and events along the way which organisers say will bring joy and show Little Amal as “a figure of great hope”.

Built by the Handspring Puppet Company – a pre-eminent puppet production company best known for its work on the runaway hit play War Horse, Little Amal was built from robust but lightweight material that would allow her to be operated for long periods and under various weather conditions. Forty years after they first began, the founders of the South African company, who plan to wrap up the business after this project, called it a “fantastic way” to end their careers.

Little Amal will arrive in Britain on October 26 and will be welcomed by hundreds of singing voices on the shore at Folkestone as choirs come together in a polyphonic moment by the sea. After touring Canterbury and London, the giant puppet will continue her trip through several English cities before her final stop in Manchester, where her epic journey will culminate in a large finale.

Updated: July 28, 2021, 11:42 AM