Little Amal: Giant puppet trekking Europe given skirt made in Highgate

Little Amal, a 3.5-metre-tall puppet of a nine-year-old Syrian girl, outside St Paul's Cathedral in

Little Amal outside St Paul's Cathedral - Credit: PA

A skirt designed by Highgate volunteers has been handed to Little Amal, a giant puppet of a child refugee that trekked 8,000km from the Turkish-Syrian border to the UK.

The 11.5ft tall puppet, whose name is Arabic for hope, arrived in Manchester on Wednesday (November 3) after walking across Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and the UK to give “a voice" to child refugees and their struggles.  

Annie Symons, based in Archway, who was also involved in the initial designs of the puppet, coordinated the sewing of 400 squares sent in from across the UK for the skirt, which was completed by helpers at Highgate Library. The project was led by Amir Nizar Zuabi.

Annie, an award-winning costume designer, told the Ham&High: “I think she has brought humanity and a voice to refugees.

“She represents them as people, people with futures, people with creativity and not as a problem that the government wants to criminalise."

Annie Symons with the skirt at Highgate library

Annie Symons with the skirt at Highgate library - Credit: Volunteer

“When I first saw Little Amal she was this giant little girl and I was truly affected by the emotion she could convey even at the most basic stage.  

“The emotion of the walk and what it represents is effectively the journey of a single child refugee separated from their mother. It really cut me to the quick.”

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On Annie’s behalf, John Scott, a sewing expert and TV presenter, asked his followers to send in 15x15cm squares, on the theme of British flowers and colours of the countryside for the “nationwide skirt of welcome”.  

The call to action received an overwhelming response and Annie organised a group of volunteers including friends from the costume world, Londoners, and even some from Dorset, to sew together the 400 patches at Highgate Library.

Little Amal, a 3.5-metre-tall puppet of a nine-year-old Syrian girl, walks over Millennium Bridge in

Little Amal is raising awareness of the plight of refugees - Credit: PA

Annie said: “I felt quite strongly that there should be a skirt from the UK as a welcoming gift. 

“I wanted Amal to feel at home and every single person who made one of those patches thought about her and what they were doing and that’s a wonderful thing. The individual small contributions to a collective whole was really moving.”   

She added that the skirt ended up being bigger than Amal’s other skirts due to the volume of squares she received, but the team worked to include all 400.  

“We had so many patches and I didn’t want to leave any out as I felt it was wrong to make those decisions, so we got them all in there," Annie said.

“I was delighted with the way it turned out. Everybody’s work is represented, and everybody’s voice is heard.”

Little Amal, a 3.5-metre-tall puppet of a nine-year-old Syrian girl, outside St Paul's Cathedral in

Crowds flocking to see Little Amal - Credit: PA

Annie comes from a long line of women who sewed, embroidered and created.  

“My grandmother and mother both made things,” she said. “There’s a connectivity there and people can find peace in some small way.”  

The character of Little Amal first appeared in Good Chance Theatre’s play The Jungle in 2017, which told the story of a little girl who, separated from her family, crossed Europe unaccompanied – a reality for hundreds of minors in the Calais camp.   

Playwriters Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson founded Good Chance in 2015 and created a pop-up “theatre of hope” in the Calais “Jungle” camp, inviting refugees, migrants, locals and artists to “connect people, stories and culture”.

The Jungle was based on the stories people told in the pop-up theatre.

Little Amal wearing the 400-patch skirt in Rochdale

Little Amal wearing the 400-patch skirt in Rochdale - Credit: Kevin FitzMaurice

Having decided that Amal’s story was not finished, the Good Chance teamed up with the Handspring Puppet Company, from South Africa, which also designed the War Horse puppet, to create Little Amal.  

The Walk’s Amal Fund, launched by Good Chance, the Handspring Puppet Company and Choose Love, has already raised £38,871.37 towards helping young refugees rebuild their lives.  

Little Amal was supposed to complete her journey at the Manchester International Festival on Wednesday, but the puppeteers, despite walking for 101 days, will now take her to COP26 in Glasgow.  

Annie praised the puppeteers for prolonging their journey. "Taking Amal to COP26 is a good thing as a lot of refugees are displaced because of climate change," she said.

To donate to The Walk’s Amal Fund visit: https://donate.chooselove.org/campaigns/walks-amal-fund/

Little Amal, a 3.5-metre-tall puppet of a nine-year-old Syrian girl, at St Paul's Cathedral in Londo

Little Amal outside St Paul's Cathedral - Credit: PA

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