NEWS: Hundreds welcome Little Amal to Erdington as a ‘community of sanctuary’

Words, images & video by Ed King

Erdington High Street saw hundreds of people welcome the world famous ‘living puppet’ Little Amal on Thursday 28 October – as part of the Kaleidoscope events, organised by the Erdington based charity Active Arts.

Gathering outside Oikos Café from 1pm, people started the day’s celebration by playing traditional street games from countries around the world and dancing to live music – building the carnival atmosphere before Little Amal arrived at 3pm.

Members of Birmingham’s refugee community were joined by hundreds of local families, support agencies, churches, and schools.

After saying hello to several children and meeting the crowds, Little Amal then walked up the High Street, accompanied by children and dancers – to a welcome ceremony held in the Central Square Shopping Centre.

Central Square had been specially decorated and transformed into a one day festival venue, with stages and a canvas roof over the main concourse.

At the welcome ceremony Little Amal continued to meet the hundreds of people who had come out in support of her journey, and her message of sanctuary and community, before being greeted by the Birmingham Lord Mayor.

A special poem celebrating Birmingham as a city of sanctuary was then read to Little Amal by two sisters, Sheema and Logeen Aroob, who had themselves fled from Syria to the UK with their family five years ago.

Writer Stephanie Neville joined Sheema and Logeen in delivering the poem, which had been selected from Stories of Home Hope and Home – ‘a story-telling project offering Asylum Seekers and Refugees a space to share their stories and others a space to hear them.’

Sheema and Logeen also presented Little Amal with a friendship bracelet specially crafted for the giant puppet, as event organisers handed out further bracelets to the audience.

In the weeks running up to Little Amal’s Erdington visit, a series of Kaleidoscope arts and craft workshops had been held at the Secret Arts Studio Space in Central Square – where local children and families had been making the friendship bracelets out of colourful twine and materials, working with Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham.

Little Amal is a 12ft high ‘living puppet’ who has been walking across the world since July, to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children.

Starting on the Turkey/Syrian border, Little Amal has travelled over 8000km through Greece, Italy, Switzerland, and France, before coming across the Channel to the UK – even meeting with Pope Francis in early September 2021.

Visiting only a handful of locations in the UK, Little Amal had been in Coventry the day before her visit to Erdington, before ending her global walk in Manchester on 3 November.

Attending the event and joining the team escorting Little Amal to the Central Square welcoming ceremony, Erdington MP Jack Dromey told Erdington Local: “I am deeply proud that Erdington is the Birmingham home that Little Amal will come to.

“All throughout the last 10, 20, 30 years we’ve had war after war and famine after famine – people have therefore fled for their lives, wanting a new start for them and their families and looking for sanctuary and safety. We have a moral duty to say those who come to our shores desperate for refuge, you’re welcome here.

“I’m proud that Amal is coming to Erdington because it sends the message that we are a constituency and community of sanctuary – that we are there to give home and support to those who desperately need it.”

Also attending the Little Amal event were Erdington ward councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore.

“It’s absolutely brilliant to see so many people here in Erdington, on our High Street – it really emphasises the possibilities of how we can regenerate Erdington High Street and what the long term attraction to the area can be.

“I think this exactly the thing that people have been talking about – we need to ensure that actually all countries are safe for people, so that people don’t have to go through the horrific things that you hear refugees have had to go through.”

Local arts charity Active Arts was leading Erdington’s Little Amal visit and the Kaleidoscope events on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.

Further partners include Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham, Centrala, Open Theatre Company, Mama Dojo, Surge Forward Music & Arts, Vortex Creates, Autin Dance Theatre, Everyone Erdington, Oikos Café, Six Ways Baptist Church & Food Bank, Erdington BID and Godwin Development.

Active Arts Project Director Claire Marshall told Erdington Local: “Little Amal’s message is one of sanctuary, about showing refugees and displaced people that they can find a place to call home if they have been forced to leave theirs.

“Erdington is a welcoming and diverse community, one with a history of embracing people from many different countries and cultures – and a place that continues to do so.

“This event is about celebrating that sanctuary, it’s about showing people they can find a new home here if they have had to leave theirs.

“The atmosphere here, today, as we welcome Little Amal, has been something wonderful – it’s been a truly special day and I couldn’t be prouder of the people around us.

“Little Amal’s message, highlighting the plight of refugee children, is one born from desperation and sorrow.

“But the kindness and compassion you can feel from people in Erdington here today, the simple sense of love and community in the air, gives us all a feeling of hope to hold on to.”

Watch Little Amal as she walks down Erdington High Street and into Central Square Shopping Centre

For more on Little Amal and ‘The Walk’ visit www.walkwithamal.org

For more on Active Arts visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

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