A towering puppet comes to Akron to bring hope for refugees
Akron’s North Hill neighborhood will celebrate and reflect on its diverse heritage with a special visitor on Saturday.
Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet representing an unaccompanied 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl, stops in Akron after visits to Columbus and Cincinnati. Her name means “hope,” and she’s traveled across the world since 2021.
“She’s… bringing her message of, ‘Don’t forget us, the refugee children of the world,” said Katie Beck, co-founder and co-artistic director of Gum Dip Theatre. She’s organizing the free event with the National Center for Choreography and other community organizations.
“Since this is a theater piece, it is appropriate for us to be taking the lead on the narrative aspect of the event,” Beck said.
It takes four puppeteers to operate Little Amal, who is made from molded cane and carbon fiber.
“Amal walks for the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people of all ages roaming the world in search of safety, half of whom are children,” organizers said in a press release. “As a young girl, Amal will experience the wonder of the ‘land of the free’ and also the apprehension of being in a new place.”
Little Amal will walk from the heart of North Hill, at Tallmadge Avenue and Main Street, to People’s Park. It’s an area with plenty of empty buildings left from its previous, much larger Italian immigrant population.
“A lot of the infrastructure of the city was constructed by the labor of immigrants who laid bricks for roads and the foundations of buildings,” Beck said. “The potential of the empty structures lies in the vastness of space for new residents to occupy.”
Bricks will be symbolically available at stations along Little Amal’s route. Participants will be encouraged to write on them: a burden they carry on one side and words of resilience on the other. Beck said they’ll be used to construct a new entryway at People’s Park, with the burden side placed face down. After Amal walks, the North Hill Development Corporation will host an International Day of Peace event at People’s Park.
Why North Hill?
Little Amal is visiting about three dozen American cities which reflect how populations have migrated within the U.S. In the 20th century, North Hill was a haven for Italian immigrants. That’s been changing over the past two decades as refugees from Asia have been making their home there. Beck said that despite the culture shock new arrivals may experience, Akron is a welcoming place due to resources such as the International Institute and Akron Public Schools, which are also sponsoring Little Amal’s visit.
What’s a gum dip?
Gum Dip Theatre’s name pays homage to past and present immigrants. Gum dipping was the process of dipping cords and fibers in rubber gum before making the plies of a tire, rendering it essentially blowout-proof. This was highly touted by Akron’s Firestone a century ago, but the name has been reclaimed by the theater company.