Meet Little Amal, the 12-Foot Puppet of a 10-Year-Old Syrian Girl, Who Has Been Touring the World

Lit­tle Amal is a 10-year-old Syr­i­an girl from a small vil­lage near Alep­po, a refugee and unac­com­pa­nied minor, who’s trav­eled over 9,000 kilo­me­ters over the last 15 months, hop­ing to reunite with her moth­er.

Lit­tle Amal is also a 12-foot tall rod pup­pet, oper­at­ed by three per­form­ers — one on stilts inside her mold­ed cane tor­so, to oper­ate her head, face and legs, with two more tak­ing charge of her hands.

As her cre­ators, Hand­spring Pup­pet Com­pa­ny co-founders Adri­an Kohler and Basil Jones, explain above, Amal’s pup­peteers must enter a group mind state when inter­act­ing with the crowds who turn out to meet her at free, com­mu­ni­ty-cre­at­ed events:

If the per­son inside on the stilts decides to turn left, the oth­er two have to respond imme­di­ate­ly as the arms would, so they all think the same thought.

Amal, who trav­els with three times as many pup­peteers as are required for any giv­en appear­ance and two back up ver­sions of her­self in case of mal­func­tion, is tru­ly a mir­a­cle of non-ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

As a child who doesn’t speak the lan­guage of the coun­tries she has vis­it­ed, she express­es her­self with ges­tures, and seem­ing­ly invol­un­tary micro-move­ments.

She bows gra­cious­ly in both greet­ing and farewell, tak­ing extra time to touch hands with lit­tle chil­dren.

She swivels her head, eager­ly, if a bit appre­hen­sive­ly, tak­ing in her sur­round­ings.

Her lips part in won­der, reveal­ing a row of pearly teeth.

Her big, expres­sive eyes are oper­at­ed by the per­former on stilts, using a track­pad on a tiny com­put­er.

The light­weight rib­bons that make up her long hair, pulled none too tidi­ly away from her face with a flop­py bow, catch the breeze as she tow­ers above her well wish­ers.

After stops in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzer­land, Ger­many, Bel­gium, France and the UK, Lit­tle Amal land­ed in New York City, where mem­bers of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera Orches­tra and Children’s Cho­rus ser­e­nad­ed her with Evening Song from Philip Glass’ opera Satya­gra­ha as she passed through John F. Kennedy Inter­na­tion­al Air­port.

The New York Times’ Matt Stevens described the scene as Amal came into view:

As her head peeked out from above met­al bar­ri­ers, Lit­tle Amal widened her eyes as she took in the arrivals ter­mi­nal at Kennedy Inter­na­tion­al Air­port on Wednes­day. She looked left, then right, clutch­ing her big green suit­case with its rain­bow and sun stick­ers. She was, as new­com­ers to New York City so often are, a lit­tle ner­vous, and a lit­tle lost…(she) appeared trans­fixed by the music — much like the many trav­el­ers strolling by with their suit­cas­es appeared trans­fixed by the 12-foot-tall pup­pet sud­den­ly tow­er­ing before them. Still, she was trep­i­da­tious, a tad reluc­tant to approach the orches­tra. At least, that is, until a cho­rus mem­ber — a girl wear­ing a sun­flower yel­low shirt — went up to her and took her by the hand.

With 50 events in 20 days, Lit­tle Amal had a packed sched­ule that includ­ed a nigh­t­ime vis­it to Jane’s Carousel in Brook­lyn Bridge Park and an ear­ly morn­ing trip along Coney Island’s board­walk. Unlike most first time vis­i­tors, she spent time in Queens, Stat­en Island and The Bronx.

A New Orleans style sec­ond line pro­ces­sion­al escort­ed her a lit­tle over a dozen blocks, from Lin­coln Cen­ter, where she inter­act­ed with dancers and per­for­mance artist Machine Daz­zle, to the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, above.

New York’s immi­grant his­to­ry was evi­dent in Lit­tle Amal’s tour of the Low­er East Side and Chi­na­town, with stops at the Ten­e­ment Muse­um and the Clemente Soto Vélez Cul­tur­al & Edu­ca­tion­al Cen­ter.

With every appear­ance, Amal’s incred­i­bly life­like move­ments and dig­ni­fied reserved turned adults as well as chil­dren turned into believ­ers, while bring­ing atten­tion to the tens of thou­sands of chil­dren who have fled war and per­se­cu­tion in their home coun­tries.

See pho­tos and read more about Lit­tle Amal’s past and future trav­els here.

Down­load a free Lit­tle Amal activ­i­ty and edu­ca­tion pack here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Jim Hen­son Teach­es You How to Make Pup­pets in Vin­tage Primer From 1969

The Hand Pup­pets That Bauhaus Artist Paul Klee Made for His Young Son

Albert Ein­stein Hold­ing an Albert Ein­stein Pup­pet (Cir­ca 1931)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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