As a fan of puppet theatre, in 2006 – along with hundreds and thousands of Londoners – I was captivated by the spectacle of The Sultan’s Elephant, a massive mechanical marionette animated by the company of Royal de Luxe. The following year, I was lucky enough to see the first staging of War Horse at the National Theatre, where I was amazed and moved by the expressive and emotive puppets conceived and created by the Handspring Puppet Company.
No surprise then that earlier this year, I paid attention to the first media stories about The Walk, “a travelling festival of art and hope in support of refugees”. The focus of which is Little Amal, a 3.5 metre representation of a 9-year old Syrian refugee girl, searching for her mother and a new, safe life. Little Amal was created by the Handspring Puppet Company and is animated by nine puppeteers (including a former young refugee) working in relays of three.
One of my favourite words in the English language is serendipity – often defined as “happy coincidence”. As I began following Little Amal’s journey, I was also beginning my journey towards my current role of Fundraising Manager for JRS UK. This feels like serendipity.
A key aspect of my induction has been learning about JRS UK’s mission to accompany refugees with dignity and love over the often long and difficult journey that characterizes the wait for a resolution to their respective situations.
At the same time as I was learning about this, I was also following Little Amal’s journey through Europe and the extraordinary welcome she was receiving along the way. From the start of her walk in Turkey, through communities in Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and France, Little Amal was met and celebrated by dance, theatre and art events, often involving children.
Little Amal was also met by the great and the good, most notably in a beautifully choreographed encounter with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
As much as am enjoying The Walk, I am acutely aware that Little Amal’s journey is representative of a much more arduous, perilous and often unwelcoming reality for refugee children and adults.
Little Amal ended her several days of events in London with a special service at Westminster Cathedral on the 25th of October. Joining my JRS colleagues, volunteers, refugee friends and hundreds of others – including Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Bishop Paul McAleenan – meeting her, singing and praying for a more welcoming future for refugees and asylum seekers everywhere was an uplifting and inspiring experience.
Little Amal continues her Walk from London to the North of England – taking in Sheffield, Rochdale, Wigan and ending in Manachester.
Follow her progress: www.walkwithamal.org