By Andrew Hofstetter
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A giant refugee girl puppet, known as “Little Amal,” walked around New York City’s Times Square on Friday, raising awareness of the plight of displaced children seeking safety across borders.
The 12-foot-tall (3.66 meters) puppet, whose name means “hope” in Arabic, started her journey at the Syrian-Turkish border in July 2021, met with Ukrainian refugees in Europe, and will visit the city’s five boroughs over the next 2-1/2 weeks.
Amal represents a 10-year-old looking for her mother who set out in search of food and never returned, said Peter Avery, director of theater for the New York City Department of Education and producer of Little Amal Walks New York.
“After the Middle East and Europe, the producers of Little Amal chose New York because they said America and Europe specifically are where the ‘huddled masses’ are welcome, the Emma Lazarus poem,” said Avery, referring to the words inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
Broadway performers and about 200 New York City students serenaded Amal to calm her in bustling Times Square.
“To see a little … Syrian refugee girl being welcomed like a rock star all over the world is just so moving,” said Eric Sirakian, who stars in “The Kite Runner” on Broadway.
Designed by the Handspring Puppet Company based in South Africa, Amal comes to life with the help of a puppeteer on stilts inside her bamboo frame controlling strings that create the puppet’s facial expressions. Each arm is operated by a puppeteer outside.
“Little Amal’s message to the world is, ‘Don’t forget us,'” Avery said.
(Reporting by Andrew Hofstetter in New York; Writing by Roselle Chen; Editing by Richard Chang and Matthew Lewis)