When Little Amal, a 12-foot-tall puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee, walked into the American Museum of Natural History’s famed Hall of Dinosaurs, she held her own amongst towering velociraptors and her crowds of adoring fans.
“With the dinosaurs, it was incredible because they were her scale,” says Susan Feldman, artistic director at St. Ann’s Warehouse, which produced Amal’s 17-day trip through New York City this year. “There was the theatrical side to it, but there was also that idea of a real refugee child, who could go to the American Museum of Natural History and be welcomed there.”
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“With the dinosaurs, it was incredible because they were her scale,” says Susan Feldman, artistic director at St. Ann’s Warehouse, the nonprofit that produced Amal’s 17-day trip through New York City this year. “There was the theatrical side to it, but there was also that idea of a real refugee child who could go to the American Museum of Natural History and be welcomed there.”
Crowds of adoring fans trailed Amal at every stop of her journey, from a waterfront walk in the South Bronx to a dance performance on Wall Street. They were drawn by both her artistry and her story as a symbol of hope for refugee children and global displacement, says David Lan, a producer for the Walk Productions, the team behind Amal’s creation and her tour of Europe last year.
“Wherever she goes, a high percentage of the people in her audience are people who have had some version of her experience,” Lan says. “Either they themselves have been refugees or their parents have been, so there’s an enormously wide range of experiences that enables people to relate to her.”
Since starting her journey at the Turkey-Syria border in July 2021, Amal, whose name means hope in Arabic, has traveled more than 5,000 miles raising awareness for the more than 27 million global refugees, roughly half of whom are children. The Walk has developed education curricula and launched a fundraising campaign with the UK-based nonprofit Choose Love to raise money for refugee children’s education and other services.
As for what’s next for Amal, she’s received numerous invitations to meet with global leaders, including at November’s Paris Peace Forum, and there are plans to continue using her high profile to raise more money for refugees. Her global success still mystifies and dazzles Lan, who noted that he once imagined Amal as a vulnerable child before seeing the puppeteers’ work.
“When she was first assembled, we all went, ‘Oh, I didn’t expect that,’” Lan says. “She’s got power. She’s not vulnerable. She’s a child, but she’s got strength.”