Little Amal arrives in Lafayette, a community of migrants

Large puppet of a little girl holds hands with little girl on man's shoulders
Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet, represents a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl. Photo by Igor Emerich

Little Amal is large enough to transcend — and transform — humanity.

And organizers of her Lafayette visit on Wednesday are hoping she does exactly that and more as she continues her global journey to bring awareness to the plight of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers, especially those who are children.

The 12-foot puppet, towering over crowds of fans during her trek worldwide, is a child herself. She represents a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl.

“The children are the most vulnerable and innocent ones,” says Lisa Stafford, programming director at Festival International de Louisiane, which is hosting Amal’s visit.

According to Stafford, Amal enables individuals to open up their hearts and minds, and see what is going on in the world.

Festival International describes “Little Amal’s Journey: Allons jouer à Lafayette” as “a theatrical adventure through our unique and welcoming community.”

Southern hospitality is encouraged for the local walk that begins at 6 p.m. at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, and culminates with a grand finale at Parc International.

The public is invited to accompany Amal from the start or to join in during stops along the way. Her route is noted on Festival International’s website. Also on the site are directions for children to make feufollet lanterns to guide Amal on her walk.

Entertainment for the event includes the Acadiana Symphony Youth Orchestra, Acadiana Talent Youth Actors Troupe, Brandon Broussard, Coco Tribe of Canneci Tinne, Corey Ledet, Fire Expressions Performing Arts Conservatory, Riley Family Band, Soul Express Brass Band and the Magnolia Sisters.

Carly Viator Courville, Festival International’s marketing director, was not aware until recently that half of refugees are children. Such issues, she says, are not “a past problem but a now problem.”

The event’s supporting partners agree.

“Amal brings awareness to the issues that may not always be up front: refugees and migrant issues that affect us all,” says Erica Melancon Fox, founder of La Maison de Freetown Museum and Attakapas Collective. “And we must be sensitive to these issues because we’ve all had situations where we needed help.”

Large puppet of a little girl towers over a crowd of people
Little Amal visits Deptford Market, Deptford High Street, Lewisham as she arrives in London. Photo by David Levene

As an example, Fox points to Hurricane Katrina, which left Louisiana residents in disarray.

“We, too, were displaced,” she says, noting how much the world responded when the state was hurting. “It’s important [for us] to bring that same kind of care and empathy to those in need.”

Such sentiment abounds.

“As a father, I find it important as world citizens to really know what’s going on and support families, who are going through very tough times no matter where they’re from,” says Sami Parbhoo, coordinator of the Lafayette Parish Bicentennial.

The Bicentennial is also a supporting partner of the event, and Parbhoo serves on Festival International’s board of directors.

Other supporting partners of Amal’s journey here include the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, Lafayette Economic Development Authority, Downtown Lafayette Unlimited, Acadiana Center for the Arts and Acadiana Symphony Orchestra & Conservatory of Music.

Amal’s mission is two-fold: spreading awareness and hope and highlighting “the rich cultures and contributions immigrants bring with them,” according to Festival International’s promotion of the visit. 

But the focus remains on the need for intervention.

While Amal’s mission may seem overwhelming to tackle, organizers are confident her visit will make a difference in the lives of those in need.

Little Amal began her 6,000-mile trek across the United States on Sept. 7. Her journey is scheduled to end Nov. 5. Previously, Amal had visited 14 countries, and met more than 1 million people.

Besides New Orleans, Lafayette is the only Louisiana city Amal will have visited.

“We’re so blessed over here — it’s easy to ignore what’s going on in the world,” Parbhoo says of the United States. “We need to remind ourselves of how lucky we are and how we can help others.”

You can donate to Amal’s mission here.