Who is Little Amal, and why is she coming to Boston?

Local News

The 12-foot puppet of a young Syrian refugee has traveled the world spreading a message of hope and empathy for displaced people.

A crowd greets Little Amal on Staten Island. The Walk Productions/Respective Collective

Boston is welcoming a larger-than-life visitor this week in the form of a 12-foot-tall puppet called Little Amal. 

Over the past two years, Little Amal — whose name means “hope” in Arabic — has traveled thousands of miles across 15 countries, spreading a message of empathy and hope for displaced people in general, and refugee children in particular.

Who is Little Amal?

Little Amal became famous in 2021 when she and her puppeteers trekked across Europe from Turkey to the United Kingdom. Her creators had invented a story for her inspired by the true stories of many refugee children: She was a displaced Syrian 10-year-old, far from home, separated from her family, and searching for her mother. Everywhere she went, crowds of people came out to greet her, interact with her, walk with her. Her towering yet childlike presence provoked surprisingly emotional responses for a puppet constructed of cane and carbon fiber. 

Amal was created with Syrian refugee children in mind, but her message resonated in the U.S., too, prompting her creators to launch a month-long tour of 35 U.S. towns and cities this fall. At each stop from Boston to San Diego, Little Amal will be greeted by local artists and performers who will celebrate her arrival and “welcome” her into their communities. 

David Lan, one of the founding producers of the Little Amal project along with Tracy Seaward, explained that the giant puppet is meant to humanize refugees and migrants by inviting people to imagine what it would be like for a young child to arrive in an unfamiliar new place. 

“She’s not a campaigner, she’s not got any political affiliation,” Lan told Boston.com. “She’s a 10-year old. What she’s interested in is meeting people, and seeing new things, and having a good time.”

Little Amal walks around Grand Central Station in New York, on Sept. 15, 2022. Seth Wenig / AP, File

Although refugees and asylum-seekers often encounter hardships and even misery, Lan said, “misery is not our subject. Our subject is welcome, and potential. One of the reasons why Amal is a 10-year-old child is because we wanted to focus on the potential that refugees bring — in their imaginations, in their experiences, in their intelligence.”

“What we want to focus on,” Lan continued, “is the ways in which newcomers into a community can enhance everybody’s experience by bringing the particularity of their experience.”

Where to see Little Amal in Boston

Little Amal will spend Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Boston to kick off her American tour. A host of local artists and arts organizations have arranged performances and walks to greet Amal and introduce her to Boston’s neighborhoods. 

On Thursday afternoon, Amal will arrive in Dewey Square in downtown Boston and — with the help of four puppeteers — walk to Chinatown. 

The walk is a free, public event organized by the local, contemporary theater production organization ArtsEmerson and the City of Boston. Local performance groups including A Trike Called Funk, Grooversity, HG Drumline, and the New England Bhangra Club will accompany Amal and stage dance and musical performances along the walking path. 

Little Amal has visited 15 countries in the past two years. The Walk Productions

Ronee Penoi, director of artistic programming at ArtsEmerson, explained that the route from downtown Boston to Chinatown was chosen as a means of introducing Amal to immigrant communities. Chinatown is also the former site of Boston’s Little Syria neighborhood. 

“It feels really meaningful that Amal — who is a 10-year-old Syrian girl looking to find community and to find a home in the city — that she will come to Chinatown, where we could imagine that her ancestors or relatives might have landed there,” Penoi said.

Penoi hopes that residents and families will join ArtsEmerson for the walk, and take the opportunity to explore Chinatown afterward. 

On Saturday, the Veronica Robles Cultural Center and the Institute of Contemporary Art are partnering to stage another free, public walk with Amal — this one culminating with music and dancing by youth performers from the VROCC at the ICA’s Watershed location.

“I think our participation alongside our partners in East Boston, and especially Veronica Robles’s young performers, will elevate and highlight the connection between those young global refugees and young residents of East Boston,” explained John Andress, the ICA’s performance curator. “I know that those young performers are very excited to meet and greet her, and to offer joy and hope for Amal as she makes her journey.”

Little Amal will also make appearances at the Boston Public Library’s Egleston Branch, Harvard Yard, the East Boston Public Library, Central Square Park, and Fenway Park, where she’ll throw the ceremonial first pitch on Saturday. Here’s her complete Boston itinerary.