Little Amal, the 12-Foot Refugee Puppet, Delights San Ysidro Crowd and Vice Versa

Little Amal, the 12-foot puppet completing a North American tour, was greeted with wonder and delight in her first San Diego stop Saturday.

But the feeling was mutual.

Magically moved by two walking puppeteers and veteran performer Sebastian Charles inside her bamboo torso, the representation of a 10-year-old refugee girl from war-shattered Aleppo, Syria, acted amazed as well.

Amal bowed, eyes blinking. Amal reached down to touch children’s hands. Amal stopped to admire some cactus, then some large painted butterflies.

And Amal drew awwws when she turned to greet a small dog — perhaps a Shih Tzu — lifted by a neighbor above his concrete fence.

With several hundred people following, Little Amal made her way to brief ceremonies at the UCSD-CASA Community Station in San Ysidro, where 50 Casa Familiar volunteers wore shirts saying “I am you” or the Spanish equivalent: Yo soy tú.

Little Amal’s North American travels.

After a Kumeyaay blessing rite, Amal sat down to watch a large inflated ball thrown down a long table, where people on both sides recited one-word messages for migrants on the Mexican side of the border. Their words, in Spanish, were later deposited in a sack for Amal to take to Tijuana and parts south Sunday.

After the hour-long Casa Familiar visit, Amal’s 40-member team was to head to Balboa Park, Chicano Park and South Mission Beach.

David Lan, who once made his own walk from Syria to the United Kingdom, said Amal would continue into Mexico for several stops — ending her 14-nation tour late this month in Tapachula on the border with Guatemala.

David Lan is a key figure in Little Amal's tours of 14 nations.
David Lan is a key figure in Little Amal’s tours of 14 nations. Photo by Chris Stone

He said the San Ysidro reception was emblematic of her travels since July 2021 — captured in social media and witnessed by millions.

“What you just saw here today is as good an example as any of what she’s capable of doing,” said Lan, whose The Walk Productions partnered with Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa and a grassroots network of producers, artists and partners to bring Amal to the masses.

“It’s partly now because she’s been so many places and because she’s such a huge presence on social media and so on,” he said. “So when she arrives in a place people sort of feel good about themselves because Amal has chosen to come to visit them.”

His team gets that special feeling for free. But so do Amal’s fans.

The feeling, he said, is: “Amal’s decided to come to our neighborhood in San Ysidro this Saturday morning.”

Lan was impressed with how much preparation was made for Amal’s visit — “They’ve been working on it for a long time. And that’s great.”

Amal celebrated a birthday — perhaps her 10th again — 11 days ago, where her social media said: “Today is Little Amal’s birthday, but for millions of children like Amal today is not a happy day. We have just one birthday wish for Amal: Protect all children.”

On Thursday, Amal’s team posted a video of her in shattered parts — apparently dying on a beach.

The pointed message was:

Children are not collateral
Stop the Gaza massacre
Ceasefire now

David Lan said the current tour won’t end Amal’s advocacy for the world’s refugee children and migrants.

Would she perhaps end up static in some museum?

“No, she’s never gonna do that,” Lan said. “She’s gonna keep moving along. She’s gonna keep trucking along.”