A 12-foot puppet comes to St. Louis to highlight refugee struggles and spread hope
A 12-foot puppet called Little Amal will stop at the St. Louis Gateway Arch on Sunday to spread hope to immigrants and refugees in the region and draw attention to the difficulties immigrants and refugees face.
The puppet production, "The Walk," starts at 12:30 p.m. It aims to spark dialogue about human rights in other countries. Little Amal is a puppet that symbolizes a 10-year-old Syrian refugee who is displaced from her homeland and on a quest to find her mother in a new land.
Local artists, residents and organizations will welcome Amal, which means "hope" in Arabic, to the area with activities and performances to help ease her fears of traveling to a new home.
The performance could encourage people in the St. Louis region to forge bonds with their immigrant and refugee neighbors, said David Lan, producer of "The Walk."
“The main thing that we are doing is trying to draw the focus to the potential that refugees, asylum seekers and migrants carry with them — their imaginations, their experience, their wisdom, their skills,” Lan said.
Little Amal is designed by Handspring Puppet Company. The puppet is operated by a crew of people who maneuver its hands, facial expressions and torso.
While the puppet walks through the Arch grounds, it will greet people and participate in a musical performance to help refugees and immigrants understand that they do not have to face their fears of living in a new place alone.
Lan said he hopes Amal will strengthen the community and inspire more organizations and city leaders to welcome refugees.
Faiqa Aloqla, a Syrian refugee and mother of five, is grateful for the St. Louisans and immigrant organizations that welcomed her to the city from Daraa, Syria, seven years ago. Aloqla and her family left her war-torn homeland in search of peace and found it in St. Louis. However, she said her family had a hard time getting acclimated at first.
“When we came we were so sad because everything is different; we don't know the system, we don't know any friends or relatives, and the bigger problem is English,” Aloqla said. “We don't know anything about America, but we are trying to learn. I'm not giving up.”
Aloqla said she is thriving now that she is more comfortable in the city. She opened Alnoor Market and Grill in south St. Louis and is working on improving her English.
She hopes Little Amal will expose people to Syrians living in the region and give them a positive image to remember.
St. Louisans must do more to help connect immigrants and refugees to resources so they feel at home, said Suzanne Sierra, program director of the St. Louis Mosaic Project.
“Every individual has something they can do. … They can donate goods or funds to support the resettlement,” Sierra said. “The more people in the community know who our refugee neighbors are … the more that we can then connect them for deeper integration.”