‘Like from a movie,’ Little Amal travels Brooklyn to spread message of refugee visibility

Little Amal visits Bay Ridge to raise awareness on the refugee crisis
“I wish I could put into words the joy on everyone’s faces tonight. We all had chills. Everyone was smiling. Crying. Pure joy. Happiness. It was beautiful. All walks of life. Together. I was so honored Little Amal came to see us. It was incredible.” Justin Brannan via Facebook
Justin Brannan via Facebook

Little Amal, a roughly 12-foot tall puppet depicting a 10-year-old Syrian refugee, is making her way across Brooklyn as she works to bring attention to the global refugee crisis.

Amal, which translates to “hope” in Arabic, has traveled nearly 6,000 miles, and will be visiting neighborhoods across the five boroughs through Oct. 2.

On Sept. 19, Little Amal made her way across the historic Riegelmann Boardwalk in Coney Island, and on Sept. 23, the puppet passed through Bay Ridge, where her message touched the hearts of the diverse community.

“That was easily one of the most moving things that I have been a part of in recent memory,” said local councilmember Justin Brannan. “Just because of what this giant puppet has come to represent, especially with everything going on now in our city with migrant families coming here.”

Bay Ridge is home to 33 percent of Brooklyn’s Arab-American population — roughly 7,942 or 24,000 Arab speakers, according to the NYC Service

“It was like from a movie, it was really beautiful and touching to have her,” he said, adding on Facebook that it was just as inspiring to see his district take to the streets for the showing. “All walks of life. Together.”

The puppet of Little Amal represents a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl who, in The Walk project, travels alone across Europe to find her mother. It was designed and built by Handspring Puppet Company in South Africa for the international hit play War Horse and, since the beginning of her journey in 2021, Amal has seen 85 cities and 12 countries, encountering an estimated 1 million people.

With help of St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO, Amal will attend a total of 55 events events, meeting government officials, community leaders and New Yorkers both young and old, Brannan said, to share her message of refugee visibility. 

Communities gather for pictures with roughly 12 foot puppet.
Communities gather for pictures with the towering puppet.Photo courtesy of Councilmember Justin Brannan

In a statement on “Walk With Amal’s” official website, artistic director Amir Nizar Zuabi said it’s more important than ever to address the world’s refugee crisis.

“It is because the attention of the world is elsewhere right now that it is more important than ever to reignite the conversation about the refugee crisis and to change the narrative around it. Yes, refugees need food and blankets, but they also need dignity and a voice,” he said. “The purpose of The Walk is to highlight the potential of the refugee, not just their dire circumstances.”

In Brooklyn, Little Amal was greeted by the borough’s Arab community and organizations — including the Arab-American Family Support Center, the Yemeni-American Merchants Association, and the Arab American Association of New York. As of 2018, Brooklyn had the second-highest immigrant population of any of the five boroughs — second only to Queens. Though Little Amal arrived in New York City in the midst of an immigration crisis — over 10,000 asylum-seekers, mostly from South and Central America, have arrived in New York City since last spring, and the city is struggling to meet their needs.

Little Amal is so big, Nizar Zuabi said, “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 puppet — which takes four puppeteers to bring to life — will spend the rest of the week in Manhattan, before making her last two stops in New York City at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Antic Sunday, followed by one last walkthrough at Brooklyn Bridge Park.