“Joy awaits you, we will love you, you’ll find your family soon”
(Children’s choir, The Walk: When The Birds Land)
During a chilly evening on 3rd of November 2021, an unaccompanied 9-year-old refugee girl from Syria named Little Amal strode into central Manchester after walking 10 million steps over 5,000 miles through a total of 65 European cities, towns, and villages, and eight countries.
And apart from some friendly birds in flight to guide her, she was alone as she crossed these borders as part of The Walk: When The Birds Land with Manchester International Festival.
Amal, whose name means ‘hope’ in Arabic, is looking for her mother - who set out in search of food and never returned - and a new home after being displaced by brutal conflict in her home country.
And our city celebrated her presence with hollers of joy, flamboyant displays of our arts and culture, cries of acceptance, and an open outpouring of love in languages from Arabic to Yoruba, as well as English.
Passing trains honking, a marching band, street-dancers, renowned Mancunian singers and actors, and a crowd of thousands showed up to greet her, and it has been much the same jubilant atmosphere along the entire epic trail.
On her once-in-a-lifetime passage through Europe to England, Amal has enjoyed experiences that normal refugees and asylum seekers don’t usually get the opportunity to experience.
She has seen castles and cathedrals, been serenaded by numerous choirs, played on the beach, got to be a part of various art exhibitions and shows, visited Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and she was even united with her theatrical West End puppet cousin, War Horse.
She has seen herself reflected in the electronic billboards of Oxford Circus, participated in colourful national dances, and she has shaken the hand of the Pope in the Vatican City.
She has experienced being a carefree and easy-going tourist traversing through Europe.
And she has been shown only the very best that every nation that she travelled through has to offer her.
Without uttering a single word, Little Amal wholeheartedly embraces everything and everyone she meets – you can see it in the curious, childlike way she moves, from the way her eyes light up over a bunch of floating balloons to playfully bopping along to house anthem Show Me Love.
And she is unafraid to join in with the community – despite her 12-feet-tall build, she fits in flawlessly while dancers, poets and crowds all scramble to add to the aura of humanity emanating from this symbolic one-puppet art festival tour.
She is one ambitious cross-continental creative endeavour, and for us at Afrocats, it is indescribable to see the uniting qualities of the arts to potentially make life better for the refugees and asylum seekers that come to us live in action.
But it can’t have all been easy for Little Amal.
In a video by The Independent, she shuts her animatronic eyes in solemn remembrance as she prepares to cross the treacherous Dover Strait, where many of her relatives will have had to put themselves in peril to cross to safety in the UK.
And according to the same video, 19,500 people in ‘small boats’ have attempted to do so this year alone.
Not all who try to cross will make it.
Amal doesn’t cry or break down with this burden, she just gets on with it as most refugees and asylum seekers do.
If we can be so exultant, all-embracing, and respectful towards a symbolic puppet, we are capable of feeling and acting the same way towards the real people she represents.
As the Taliban retakes a stranglehold over Afghanistan, as Home Office ‘hostile environment’ policy makes it increasingly difficult for innocent people to put conflict and trauma behind them to create a new life here, and as climate change accelerates with the high probability of further displacing millions more, the pressure is mounting to accept and protect those in need of help.
More connects us than separates us, and Little Amal reflects this with every blameless step.
Little Amal was able to successfully conclude her journey to England with lavish fun and festivities, however, many refugees and asylum seekers that arrive on British shores won’t be able to do the same.
But as Amal brought the plight of refugees literally ‘home’ to Manchester, we still maintain ‘hope’ that one day, the refugees and asylum seekers that knock on our nation’s door will be able to experience and receive the best it has to offer them in real life, and not just when it’s showtime.
Refugees are welcome here.
You can find out more about Little Amal’s journey by visiting Manchester International Festival’s website.
To donate and learn more about what we do at Afrocats, you can visit our Support Us page.