Words & images by Ed King
Two sisters who escaped the war in Syria five years ago will be presenting Little Amal with a handcrafted friendship bracelet, when the 12ft high ‘living puppet’ visits Erdington on Thursday 28 October.
Sheema (16) and Logeen (11) Aroob will be a central part of Little Amal’s visit to Erdington, gifting the friendship bracelet – a symbol of sanctuary and welcome – as part of the official welcoming ceremony.
Starting outside the Co-op on Erdington High Street at 1pm, the celebration will also include live music and street games from across the world – before Little Amal leads a procession of local children and adults to Central Square Shopping Centre.
Recommended through Refugee Action, Sheema will also be reading a specially selected poem which celebrates the beauty of Birmingham and welcomes people to the city.
A poet in her own right, Sheema recently performed one of her own works at the Erdington Arts Forum’s Evening of Creativity – at a special showcase event recently held during Refugee Week.
Sheema told Erdington Local: “I was asked by Refugee Action to present special friendship bracelet to Little Amal when she comes to visit Erdington.
“I am very excited to be part of the Little Amal event, and a little nervous. But I like to join in with these events as it helps bring out my confidence.
“We came from Syria to the UK five years ago, after leaving Lebanon because of the war – once a bomb dropped right outside the front of our house, it was a dangerous place, and our family were scared for their lives.
“Also, my father had injured himself and was unable to work; life was very difficult.
“The poem I am reading when Little Amal comes to Erdington was suggested to me by Johnny (Autin, choreographer) and is about Birmingham, how beautiful the city can be, and how people should come and visit Birmingham and see it with their own eyes.
“I like to write poetry as it is a good way to get my thoughts and feelings out, and I can be more honest in a poem. I have also written a story about our journey from Syria to the UK.”
Inspired by stories from the Calais refugee camp, and made by the production team behind Warhorse, Little Amal is based on a young Syrian girl who lost her family whilst out looking for food – with the ‘living puppet’ having travelled over 8,000km to reach the UK.
Little Amal has been travelling across the globe since July, starting on the Syria/Turkey border, to raise awareness on the plight for refugee children – who account for over 50% of the world’s displaced people, according to UNICEF.
Having travelled from Syria with her family five years ago, escaping the ongoing war, Sheema Aroob has a direct understanding of Little Amal’s journey, with members of her family still living amidst the violence.
“Little Amal began her walk in Jarabulus, on the border of Syria and Turkey, which is where my aunt – my mother’s sister – still lives. So, the journey Little Amal has made is very close to our hearts.
“My auntie still lives in Jarabulus but in a tent, with her children – she has two daughters and one son; one of the daughters is disabled.
“We are still in touch, but there is still trouble and violence there and it is going to be very hard for her and her family this winter.”
Local arts charity Active Arts is leading Erdington’s Little Amal event 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: “We’re really pleased to have Sheema and her family as part of Little Amal’s visit to Erdington – they have experienced, first-hand, some of the issues faced by refugees this international art project is trying to shine a light on.
“Sheema and her family have been a huge part of the Kaleidoscope workshops and have been heavily involved in preparations for the event too. It’s been a joy working with and getting to know them, individually and as a family.”
Little Amal will visit Erdington on Thursday 28 October, with a one day carnival starting at 1pm outside the Co-op and Oikos Café on the High Street – before heading up to the Central Square Shopping Centre.
The final Kaleidoscope arts, craft, street games and dance workshop will be held between 1-3pm at the Secret Art Studio Space on Wednesday 27 October – at the Central Shopping Centre on Erdington High Street.
For more on Little Amal and ‘The Walk’ visit www.walkwithamal.org