Little Amal leaves a big footprint on DC

The 12-foot girl advocated for refugees with local artists in downtown D.C.

Little Amal leaves a big footprint on DC

Little Amal took her first steps in D.C. on Sept. 17, emerging on Black Lives Matter Plaza to the thundering tunes of the Eastern Senior High School marching band. Chasing after the trumpets, tubas and drums, the 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee danced with her arms out and her eyes closed on Sunday.

During her global trek, Little Amal, which means hope in Arabic, came to embody displaced children everywhere. Created and operated by performers from the Handspring Puppet Company, Little Amal brings the story of an unaccompanied child refugee searching for her mother.

With her first steps in Turkey in July 2021, Amal began a trek across Europe. She collaborated with the local musicians and artists of 97 towns and 15 cities to spread hope and love amongst children and families.

Now, Little Amal is walking 6,000 miles across America, evoking powerful emotions from the communities she encounters.

From Sept. 16 to Sept. 19, Little Amal paraded across Anacostia, Northwest D.C. and Prince George’s County with the support of local organizations such as Planet Word, Washington Performing Arts and Islamic Relief USA.

Lauren Beyea, director of marketing, communications and creative media at Washington Performing Arts says excitement follows Little Amal, even from those who don’t know her story.

“People are interested in [welcoming] and bringing people together,” Beyea said. “I think that’s what we’re all here to do today.”

Standing next to the ADAMS Beat Chorus, Little Amal towered over the park. Children of all ages clamored for her attention, reaching out to touch her hands and embrace her.

Beyea says people can’t help but smile when Little Amal comes around the corner — everyone wants to interact with her.

“She’s very tall, but she’s also a 10-year-old,” Beyea said. “Sometimes she needs to take a nap, sometimes she has a tantrum, sometimes she just needs to sit down and refocus.”

The Islamic Relief Fund accompanied the voices of the Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir and Mars Arts D.C. artists.

Aseel Elborno, an advocacy and campaign specialist at Islamic Relief USA, spoke about her experience leaving Palestine and the years she’s been separated from her family. Elborno finds comfort in the enthusiasm Little Amal generates.

“I’m so surprised by the amount of support,” Elborno said. “How many people have really come out to support refugees and celebrate refugees, it’s very heartwarming.”

Elborno wants the attendees to know there’s a huge difference between people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes and those who immigrate to another country. She believes it is Little Amal’s ability to connect that makes her relatable to children no matter the circumstance.

“Every child needs a safe place to live,” Elborno said. “Every child needs access to food and water, every child deserves access to an education. Little Amal is representative of all the basic needs of every child in the world.”

Dancing to the sounds of local go-go band, the Blacc Print Experience, fifth-grader Olivia Tasker and her mother Sequaya Tasker traveled from Charles County, Maryland to greet Little Amal. 

For Olivia, meeting Little Amal was about celebrating being a kid and appreciating Little Amal’s story.

Little Amal’s journey concluded on Sept. 19 at Union Station with an event themed “the women of my village.” In collaboration with Union Station Redevelopment Corporation and Sing for Hope, Little Amal departed D.C. with a choreographed performance to remember her home.

“It’s awesome,” Olivia said. “I want her to have the chance to find her family and when she finds them, I hope she can be happy.”

This article was edited by Sara Winick, Zoe Bell, Patricia McGee and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Luna Jinks.

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