Welcoming Little Amal to Coventry
On Wednesday the 27th October, Little Amal came to Coventry, nearing the end of her 8,000km journey.
We went to join her at the celebration in Coventry city centre, to welcome her to our city where we strive to help newly arrived communities to achieve their personal goals and lead fulfilling lives in their new country.
Little Amal is a 3.5 metre tall puppet, she is a ten year old girl, a child migrant making her way from Syria to find a new life. Her epic, 8,000 km journey is nearly finished. She has travelled through Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and France, and will finally reach her destination and her new home in Manchester today on the 3rd November. She has taken a route many other children have travelled en route to a better life, perhaps fleeing from violence and persecution.
Amal means hope in Arabic. Her journey has been a celebration of hope, of hospitality, welcome and kindness. The artists behind Little Amal, Good Chance Theatre, said:
‘Little Amal, a young refugee, has embarked on a remarkable journey – an epic voyage that is taking her across Turkey, across Europe. To find her mother. To get back to school. To start a new life. Will the world let her? Can she achieve what now seems more impossible than ever?’
This ambitious piece of performance art has acted to raise awareness of unaccompanied children and refugees to a Europe-wide audience. Little Amal brings these issues close to the people she meets, taking up space where usually people's stories are hidden in numbers and negative media portrayals.
At 3.5 metres, Little Amal is hyper visible in the places she visits. We went to welcome her to Coventry, where she was greeted by a thousand-strong crowd, who walked jubilantly with her through the city to the cathedral. But she hasn’t only encountered welcome, she has been pelted with stones, protested against by the far-right and denied access to Greek Monasteries. In this way, she has come to represent a symbol of the way people seeking sanctuary have been received across Europe now and in the past, encountering stigma and injustice as well as opportunity and welcome.
Even if she represents the existence of many, Little Amal encourages her audience to think differently about refugees and question reality. What if every refugee experienced this welcome? What if every unaccompanied child encountered empathy and care? What if there was a better way to ensure all children reach safety? Little Amal lets us imagine a different world.
The Walk is an extraordinary artistic response to a Europe which is becoming increasingly hostile to forced migrants. In the UK, the Nationality and Borders Bill, a controversial piece of legislation demarcating a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ refugee based on a person’s method of arrival, has been debated in parliament at the very moments Little Amal has been journeying across the country. She helps to counteract negative and stereotypical portrayals of refugees, by telling her story and taking up space in our collective imagination.
Amir Nizar Zuabi, Artistic Director of The Walk said:
‘The purpose of The Walk is to highlight the potential of the refugee, not just their dire circumstances. Little Amal is 3.5 metres tall because we want the world to grow big enough to greet her. We want her to inspire us to think big and to act bigger.’
The hope has to be that Little Amal has inspired the people she has encountered on her epic journey, to stand up for refugee rights and learn more about the realities of seeking sanctuary across Europe and in the UK. Today, she will be reunited with her mother, and start her new life in Manchester. This will be the end of her journey, but the beginning of a new hope for the future.