By Hadia Bakkar and Sophie Donne
Little Amal, a 3.5 metre tall puppet representing a nine-year-old Syrian girl, will be making her London debut in Deptford High Street tomorrow, as part of her 8,000km trek across Europe designed to highlight the plight of refugees.
Starting in Gaziantep, Turkey, the puppet has travelled across Europe in a fictional quest for her mother and will end her journey in Manchester on November 3.
During her morning visit to the UK’s first officially recognized Borough of Sanctuary, Amal, whose name means hope in Arabic, will be walking with hundreds of children from ten local schools. She will be met with welcoming gifts, a handmade banner, and lanterns, all made by Lewisham students.
The puppet will arrive at the Deptford Anchor monument in Deptford Broadway around 10am. Lewisham Council said Amal will explore Deptford’s street market, “wash her clothes at an unusual launderette, borrow a book from a golden library, marvel at a musical big wheel, meet the world’s tallest Bubbleologist and receive a bag full of giant, hand-made gifts from the Refugee Café, Migration Museum, Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network and the Albany”.
“Lewisham is a very fitting stop on Little Amal’s journey to Manchester,” said Emily Miller, head of learning and partnerships at the Migration Museum, which is one of the local partners sponsoring the event.
“It [Lewisham] has a history of antiracism and solidarity with refugees, migrants and people of colour and is a hugely diverse borough, with a lot of residents who have lived experience of migration and forced migration.”
In preparation for the event, the Migration Museum facilitated workshops with several local schools in the area, including St Mary’s, the first official Sanctuary School in Lewisham. They explained different forms of migration to the students, focusing on the struggles of the 32 million displaced kids that Amal represents.
Amal and the accompanying art festival were created by Handspring Puppet Company – which was responsible for the famous horse figures in the National Theatre’s celebrated dramatisation of Michael Morpugo’s book War Horse – and Palestanian artistic director Amir Nizar Zuabi. Lewisham Council, Create Without Borders, Deptford X, The Albany, and the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network are also local sponsors of the event.
“We have watched in horror at the events unfolding in Afghanistan,” said Lewisham Councillor and Cabinet Member for Culture Andre Bourne. “The Walk will give us an opportunity to learn more about people who are forced to flee from their homes and find a new place to live. I hope lots of people, particularly our younger residents, will join us to welcome Little Amal for this special day.”
Although Little Amal was welcomed by many cities on her journey, she has also been met by backlash. A local council in central Greece, for example, refused to allow her to walk through its village, and in another city, Larissa, she was hit by rocks.
Zuabi, described the aim of the event as highlighting “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.”
Ensuring Little Amal is “welcomed warmly” on her visit is crucial to community organizers in Lewisham, according to Sophie Gregory, communications officer at Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network (LRMN).
“This warm and friendly welcome is one we hope to see across Lewisham and South East London towards all refugees, migrants and asylum seekers,” she said..
The council has advertised Amal’s stop in Lewisham as the borough’s first major event as it gears up to be the Mayor of London’s Borough of Culture in the upcoming year.
Lewisham was granted the title of Borough of Sanctuary earlier this year by national charity City of Sanctuary and has welcomed 90 unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the last two years.
The event will be held from 10am to12 pm and will include family-friendly activities, live Samba music, bubbles, and snacks catered by the Refugee Cafe.