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Home Settlement Toronto welcomes Little Amal, a unique girl who helps refugees to be seen

Toronto welcomes Little Amal, a unique girl who helps refugees to be seen

Toronto welcomes Little Amal, a unique girl who helps refugees to be seen

By Olena Pavlenko

A 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl has arrived in Toronto. She is searching for her mother and a new home. Her name is Little Amal but she towers over one and all. That’s because she’s 12 feet tall and is a partly-animatronic puppet drawing attention to the problems that Syrian refugees and others around the world, especially children, face every day. Amal is visiting the Greater Toronto Area as part of the ongoing Luminato Festival.

Like many other newcomers, Amal (whose name translates to ‘hope’ in Arabic) started her discovery of Toronto by arriving at the Union Station – the busiest transportation hub in Canada – on June 7, 2023. Then, together with hundreds of supporters began the Walk with Amal.

It takes four puppeteers to bring Little Amal to life: one on each arm, one supporting her back and one inside walking on stilts. This fourth puppeteer also controls ‘the harp’, a complex tapestry of strings that animate Little Amal’s face, head and eyes.

Little Amal walked down the streets of downtown Toronto while people sang and danced for her, showing her welcoming signs and butterflies. At the final point of her route – Nathan Phillips Square – Amal was welcomed by many Torontonians and symbolically became a foster granddaughter of three local honorary grandmothers.

Among the many walk supporters and spectators was 27-year-old Ela, who arrived in Canada from India two months ago. “I came to greet Amal because I want to participate in local events and better understand Canadians. I am not a refugee, but I wish all of us [newcomers], were welcomed with such support, especially those who don’t have family here,” she shared.

Only a few children were seen on this walk with Amal. That included Elizabeth Radshaw’s kids. It was not easy for her to be in a crowd while trying to navigate her bike with two children sitting on it. But she believes they can learn much by participating in such an event.

Elizabeth Radshaw with her children participated in Little Amal’s walk in Toronto on June 7, 2023.

“It’s important for children to learn about the hardships and challenges of life that many others have been through. And our task is to welcome them into our society. So, we wanted to bring flowers to Amal to say ‘welcome’,” said Elizabeth, smiling at her son, who held a pink Gerbera daisy with determination.

Ekaterina (on the right), with her students, all came to Canada last year because of the war in Ukraine.

Although originally Little Amal represents Syrian refugee children, she is also welcomed by refugees from other countries affected by war. A Ukrainian dance teacher Ekaterina Khruzina arrived in Canada in April 2022. She attended the walk with her young students with Ukrainian blue-and-yellow ribbons on their clothes and acknowledged Little Amal’s struggle.

“Now finally, I believe I can do everything and anything. It is not easy to be a refugee with three children, but Canada is the best place for us while Ukraine suffers from a Russian invasion. Speaking of this event, I brought my students here because we all have to be united against the war in Syria, Ukraine, or elsewhere,” said Ekaterina.

Also read: How Canada’s refugee determination system works

Little Amal has travelled the world since 2021, representing human rights, especially those of refugees, and has been welcomed by over a million people in 13 countries. Want to walk with Amal during her visit to the Greater Toronto Area? Here is the list of her walks from June 7 to June 11, 2023, as she explores Toronto, Scarborough, Brampton, Mississauga and Etobicoke.

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