Little Amal, a puppet made to resemble a 10-year-old Syrian refugee, walks in a crowd toward the U.S. Capitol in the distance.
Category: University News

Title: Georgetown Hosts Little Amal, International Symbol for Refugees in March to Capitol Hill

Processing down Pennsylvania Avenue was an unfamiliar sight: a 12-foot puppet escorted by scores of Georgetown community members marching through the heart of Washington, DC.

In an event co-hosted by Georgetown’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics and the Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues, participants marched one mile from Freedom Plaza to the U.S. Capitol, where they were met by Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) and Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) (SFS’75). Meanwhile, hundreds of onlookers gazed from sidewalks and rolled-down windows at Little Amal, a puppet made to represent a 10-year-old Syrian refugee searching for her home.

Little Amal has become a symbol for human rights and the global refugee crisis, a reminder of the plight refugees endure as they flee from their homes. Since July 2021, more than a million people have seen the larger-than-life puppet march over 6,000 miles across nearly a hundred cities in 15 countries. From September through November, Little Amal is trekking across the United States. DC is one of her first stops, and Georgetown community members were heavily involved to make her trek come to life.

Humanizing Politics Through Art

As an institution dedicated to humanizing politics through performance, The Lab was a natural partner for Little Amal. Georgetown students also played a critical role in the event production as student fellows and coordinators from The Lab helped organize the event while student performers, musicians and dancers added to the theatrical experience.

“At a time of such intense division and toxicity, Little Amal has had a rare power to bring people together to engage with compassion and to bring out the best in our humanity,” said Derek Goldman, artistic and executive director of The Lab. “The Lab has an unusual opportunity and mission as an arts initiative empowered by being part of one of the world’s leading schools for international affairs. Our context right here in DC enables us to work to amplify voices and narratives that cast critical issues in a new light.”

Gillian Huebner, executive director of the Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues, hopes that Little Amal’s performance in DC will change the tune of the conversations around migration in the nation’s capital.

“Immigration policy garners a great deal of attention and debate, much of which is rarely child-centered. The predominant focus of conversations around immigration policy is border enforcement. Amal helps to shift the focus,” Huebner said. “What if we rethink migration from the perspective of a child and prioritize what that child needs?”

As a follow-up to the event, the Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues will host a workshop in the Copley Lounge to discuss child-sensitive policies for children on the move in U.S. foreign and domestic policy on Sept. 22.

Carolina Bomeny (SFS’25) has been involved with The Lab since her first year at Georgetown. After serving as a student fellow at The Lab, Bomeny became a student fellow co-facilitator while supporting communications efforts for The Lab. In the lead-up to the event, she helped rally students and faculty to march with Amal.

“The Lab is a chance for me to connect with other people on a human level and to know that there are things that you can do, even if small, to contribute to a larger conversation and really see and practice what it means to humanize politics through art,” Bomeny said. 

Follow along with Georgetown students and Little Amal as she walked through the streets of the nation’s capital. 

Little Amal’s Journey to the U.S. Capitol

Starting at Freedom Plaza just steps away from the White House, more than a hundred members of the Georgetown and wider DC community greeted Amal before she started her journey to the Capitol.

A go-go band led by Shorty Corleone and highlighted by Georgetown students in a class taught by Natsu Onoda Power performed a specially composed song for Amal from the sub-genre of funk music as people danced and shouted, “Welcome Amal!” in unison.

Before embarking on her journey through DC, actress, singer and the Emmy-nominated host of WETA Arts Felicia Curry sang “No One Is Alone” to Amal accompanied by pianist Glenn Pearson.

As Amal processed down Pennsylvania Avenue to the beat of the band Dupont Brass, marchers unfurled a sea of emergency blankets. The silvery and reflective material of the blankets shined brightly on the sunny day in DC as marchers created an ocean of emergency blankets signifying the stormy seas refugees and children on the move cross to find new homes.

Marina Mitrinovic (SFS’26), a student fellow at The Lab, helped distribute blankets at the event and shepherd participants to the Capitol. She said the performance helped capture the many difficulties refugees face.

“We have a lot of migrants and refugees coming from North Africa and the Middle East, and a lot of them are crossing dangerous conditions,” said Mitrinovic. “What we’re doing is symbolizing the physical and emotional difficulties these refugees have to go through when they’re just trying to get to a place where they can live without being afraid for their safety.”

Along her march, Amal regularly turned to interact with participants, as some parents held their children on their shoulders to embrace Amal. Halfway down Pennsylvania Avenue, Amal picked up a child’s shoe. Soon after, a wave of shoes appeared, held aloft by performers from Amal’s team and the local Happenstance Theater, a gesture to symbolize the millions of refugees and children on the move in the world, said Emma Jaster, associate director of The Lab who conceived of and coordinated the performance.

“When we metaphorically step into someone else’s shoes, feeling their life’s journey from the inside out, we develop a deeper understanding, something more than the mind can articulate, something felt in the heart,” Jaster said. “Each pair of shoes in this event evokes the story of someone who has traveled across or within borders in search of safety. This story is about the ancestry of America.”

At the Capitol, hundreds of shoes lined the front lawn of Congress. Amal held up one of the shoes to share a cacophony of refugee children’s voices saying what home means to them. The crowd then broke into song as people sang “This Little Light of Mine” as a sign of hope and solidarity for refugees around the world.

After staff from The Lab made their remarks, Dingell and Bowman each spoke about the importance of the refugee crisis and the responsibility the U.S. has to help refugee children. 

“In this time when so many people feel divided and unable to come together, we’re so amazed by your ability to bring people together wherever you go,” Goldman said in his remarks directed toward Amal. “We’ve made so many important new friends and partners just because of you and your decision to visit us here.”

Before the crowd waved goodbye to Amal, Ifrah Mansour, a Somali refugee who was a Global Lab Fellow, performed her poem written from the perspective of a refugee child recounting her struggles and hopes of searching for a new home.

“I am a refugee, a global citizen aching for two continents, two countries, two histories, two nations, yet abandoned by all,” Mansour said in her performance. “I am a refugee, and I shelter humanity.”