On Thursday afternoon on the 28th October Erdington High Street was packed with hundreds of people waiting to welcome the 12-foot puppet – Little Amal. A giant representation of a little girl separated from her family and displaced from her country by war, who has travelled 8,000KM across Europe in search of her mother. She represents the thousands of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children struggling to survive alone every day across Europe. This International and prestigious art event came to Erdington High Street!
Commissioned jointly by the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, and Birmingham City Council, Active Arts Erdington had been working hard for months planning the ‘Kaleidoscope’ event to welcome Little Amal. They, their partners, and Erdington did Birmingham proud when a joyous cry of welcome rang out from the expectant crowd as Amal first appeared peeping around a corner. Hundreds of people, including council leader Ian Ward, and MP Jack Dromey, escorted Amal on her walk up the High Street to Central Square where musicians, dancers and the Lord Mayor were waiting to greet her.
Erdington’s excited and happy crowd represented the super diversity of Birmingham and contained a significant presence from the more newly arrived Syrian community, Syria being the country where Amal is from. The two girls who placed a friendship bracelet on Amal’s wrist and helped to narrate a poem entitled “My Birmingham”, written by the refugee group – Stories of Hope and Home, are also from Syria. The girls, who are sisters, were resettled in Birmingham 5 years ago through the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme delivered through the Refugees and Migration team at BCC.
There were many families at the event who were also resettled through the SVPR scheme and it was wonderful to meet children, who arrived 5 years ago scared and unable to speak English, who are now confident, studying for A levels, with one boy attending Aston Villa’s football academy.
Little Amal’s visit meant a lot for Erdington and its local community, both practically, as struggling businesses had a welcome injection in trade, and because the ‘kaleidoscope’ event engendered community spirit, hope and cohesion. The occasion was joyous and celebratory with diverse communities mixing to welcome and cheer this 12-foot puppet who can bring a tear to your eye. She moved gracefully through the crowds, shaking hands, sometimes smiling, dancing to music, and it was beautiful and poignant because she conveys the sadness of innocent children who are displaced and alone because of conflict, but she also represents hope and love.
Little Amal’s story is one that many can relate to, and let’s hope that the empathy she stimulates will encourage us to try and alleviate such suffering. We can all make a difference by reaching out and welcoming real-life children and adults who are forced to make traumatic journeys in search of security and safety and arrive here in Birmingham. We can also work to make all our communities become places of sanctuary, from the smallest village group, right up to national Government. Erdington, with two schools which have achieved the Sanctuary Award, (one of which, Abbey RC Primary, having featured in the local press because of its work in support of asylum-seekers) and the only church in Birmingham with an award, demonstrated that it is indeed a community of welcome and sanctuary.