Standing Tall: Malaysia's Little People Take On The Big, Mean World

We try to get to know them better.

  • By: Afiqah
  • Monday, 5 February 2018
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Standing Tall: Malaysia's Little People Take On The Big, Mean World
The act of embracing a unique trait that one possesses is easier said than done for some people. Instead of feeling amazing for the rare quality they have, standing out from the rest could turn into a nightmare simply because it makes one feel a little less normal.

What more when the reason you stand out from the crowd has something to do with your genetic or medical condition. It is dwarfism we are specifically talking about here.
Dwarfism is a condition that occurs in many different types of species. As the term suggests, dwarfism refers to the extremely small size of an organism.

For us human beings, the obvious difference in those who have this condition involves the height. Those with dwarfism are shorter in height than others.

Dwarfism also affects the size of other body parts. If you’re thinking of the badass Peter Dinklage who plays Tyrion Lannister in 'Game Of Thrones', then, yes, we’re on the same page.

There are two main types of dwarfism -- proportionate dwarfism and disproportionate dwarfism. In simple words, the body parts of a person who has the former condition are equal but they are just little.

However, for the latter, the characteristics are such that they either have an average-sized torso with shorter limbs or shortened torso with longer limbs.
We spoke to three individuals with dwarfism to get to know more about how they face the world.

Say Hello To…

Aneem is the name!
Aneem Aida Binti Abdul Rahim is currently a final-year student of the Visual Creative and Designs course at Segi University, Kota Damansara.

This optimist lass is into singing, dancing, acting, designing and the list goes on!

Aiman at your service!Aiman Bin Abdullah is pretty much an all-rounder at the shop he works at. At times, you will find him at the cash register attending to paying customers.

Other times, he is busy preparing drinks at the beverage station.

Yes, he can make your all-time favourite teh tarik!
Doctor amazing!Dr. Ruziah Binti Ghazali used to run her own firm in accounting, taxation and company secretary services for over 20 years!

However, in 2015, she decided to work on a freelance basis as a consultant, trainer, and speaker. In case you were wondering, she received her doctorate in the field of Extension Education specialising in Training Management at Universiti Putra Malaysia eleven years ago.

Her field of expertise includes research and development, project/program monitoring and evaluation, strategic management, human development, training, and motivation. Of late, she has been doing more charity work too.

She had just started her position in the Little People National Organisation of Malaysia as an Honorary Advisor. Impressive indeed!

Is The Term ‘Dwarf’ Offensive?

You may be a realist and state things as they are. However, you must also understand that in reality, every human being has feelings.  

If you called Aneem a dwarf or a midget back when she was younger, she would have felt very offended.

Performing arts has been Aneem's thing since she was a pre-teen.
“I didn’t really understand the meaning of the words and just having the thought of how rudely they called me as such, I felt so isolated from the normal kids,” she said.

As time goes on, she has learnt to not be too bothered by the terms because whether she likes it or not, she knows that it is the truth. However, she prefers the label ‘short people’ more and in her words, “the rest can just be stated in documents and you don’t have to say it out loud just to differentiate us."

It was a similar case for Aiman.

“At first, I was angry. I was also scared because I was different than the rest,” said the Sarawakian who now resides in Bandar Baru Bangi, Selangor.

He told us that he eventually got used to the term ‘dwarf’ and doesn’t mind it anymore.

As for Ruziah, it all depends on how the term is expressed -- whether it is stated with an insulting tone or merely stating a fact of God’s creation. Of course, if it was the former, she would take offence.

Growing Up With Dwarfism

When asked about how it has been like growing up with dwarfism, the three of them expressed their gratefulness over how they have managed to go through the ups and downs of life.

Aneem's rock.
Performing arts has been Aneem’s thing since she was much younger. During her secondary school years, she was involved with Citrawarna and Children’s Heritage Foundation, also known as Yayasan Anak Warisan Alam (YAWA).

Alhamdulillah, I am still surviving till today,” said Aneem.

She also feels that her physical condition has impacted her in such a way that she learns to truly appreciate her surroundings and the kind souls who have been supportive throughout her journey.

“I’m just blessed and grateful to have them and I wish that they are blessed too for loving who I am naturally. They helped me a lot. There are things that I can’t reach or even do by myself. But they are there to help me during those times.”

Aiman admits that family support is important.
The support from family and friends was also crucial for Aiman to face the fear he once had.

“They encouraged me to mix around more with the others who are normal.”

In time, Aiman became more confident of who he is and he has not looked back since. The fact that he is able to earn a stable income and lead an eventful life makes him a happy chap.

“I do feel proud that I can earn my own living and I can give a portion of it to my family back in Kuching,” said Aiman, who also told us that he's part of a rock band. 

Ruziah (third from right) is an active motivational speaker, trainer, and consultant.Ruziah is also proud of what she has managed to achieve.

Alhamdulillah. I am okay and I feel great about the skills that I have.”

Not only that, Ruziah is also a published author too. Her first book, entitled 'Indahkah Bercinta Lagi', was published in 2012. Four years later, she would publish her second titled 'Expediting Your Quantitative Research – 75 tips for Securing A Quality and Timely Delivery of Your Research'.

Ruziah is grateful for the God-given courage, strength and enthusiasm she possesses that have allowed her to face those who taunt and insult her during her schooldays or simply, wherever she goes.

“It motivates me to improve myself,” said the 54-year-old. 

Of School And Bullies

Ah, school… It could be all fun and friendly but it could also turn vicious and hellish. All the three of them went to the everyday, normal schools.

Aiman told us that he found himself in a bit of a situation when he was in Year 1.

“They would call me names. I was frightened,” he opened up. 

Not letting anyone stop him.
However, it wasn’t long until he came out of his shell and started to be more confident to befriend these people. The friendship taught them that Aiman was just a kid like them too.

Eventually, they clicked well together. Aiman was lucky to avoid getting bullied.

Aiman also became some sort of a 'mentor' for a junior of his who has the same physical condition as he does. This junior, according to Aiman, started out as a very scared shy boy.

“I helped him in my own way. I just try to encourage him to mingle around with normal people and not be too worked up about the physical difference.”

Aiman’s outgoing and friendly personality is certainly an asset.

Ruziah with a participant who attended one of her talks.
In both primary and secondary school, Ruziah received the support and encouragement from her teachers when things got a little bit rough in school.

This feisty lady also told us that she would directly point out her ability to compete in terms of intelligence against the bullies. Not only was she in the ‘first class’, she was also a singer, poet, and debater in school.

In university, she was actively involved in various programs too. On her social interactions, she said: “My friends (at the university) see me just like any other friend. This makes me more confident and brave to engage in various community activities when I graduated.”

The journey was not easy for Aneem.
As for Aneem, she had it a lot harder compared to Aiman and Ruziah. Her mother decided to pull her out of kindergarten because “the children in that school were screaming because they were scared of me.”

At seven years of age, her parents had put her along with her brother at their aunt’s place due to their work commitments.

“I think during that time my parents thought that I’m just like others except I was short. So, without thinking further, they decided to put me in public school, following my cousins and sibling’s footsteps,” Aneem told Rojak Daily.

Speaking of how the other kids behaved around her, she said: “Obviously, they were very attentive towards me because they’ve never seen a person like me before, I guess?

"But, some of them would cry and scream, asking for the teacher to put me away from them because I’m not a part of them a.k.a. the normal kids -- this happened during Year One and I literally had emotional breakdown through the first couple of years.”

Growing up was tough.
“During those years in primary school, I have been teased and isolated to the extent that my cousin had to come every morning during recess hour just to check on me. 

"I would cry silently, away from everyone because I just didn’t understand why they hated me so much and of course, I had no friends during the first couple of years,” Aneem reminisced.

It was an issue that stressed her out from Year One until Year Six, until she decided to take charge of her life in school.

In Year Six, things began to change. She had gained enough confidence to lead a life with the self-thought of: “Screw the bullies. Just do what you like and ignore them. You are extraordinary.” 

We are not so different.
Aneem credits her aunt for the helpful consultations and guidance she gave her.

“She’s totally amazing, and I love her so much. Without her encouragements, I wouldn’t be able to be where I am at right now. Back then, I couldn’t be emotional with my parents because they were away and busy with work, so my aunt is my parent that time and my cousins were my siblings too.”

Aneem also credited HRH Dato’ Seri Noraini Jane for helping her to discover a talent of her own.

“She encouraged me and helped me to shine through dancing.”

Aneem is now focused on taking on life with lots of positivity.
At the end of her senior year in primary school, she had gotten herself busy with performances and sports activities. It absolutely did the job in boosting her confidence and overcoming her fear of bullies.

Ever since then, she has been living life to the fullest! The struggles are still there, she told us, but she now has wonderful friends who look out for her.

Dealing With Insecurities

We all have our insecurities. However, with dwarfism, the issue seems so much more apparent.

The challenges he faced made Aiman a stronger person.Aiman admitted to feeling low about himself when he was younger. However, through his jovial personality, he was able to make friends with many people and soon enough, he learnt that he is not all that different.

“It is very important to socialise with others. I think that’s what helped me to be more confident of who I am,” he said.

Aneem was quick to say that she had definitely gone through moments of insecurity due to her physical condition.

“I bet anyone with the same condition as mine would feel the same.”

However, the presence of the supportive people in her life who motivates her and pushes her for the better gives her the strength to overcome the problem.

Facing Life's Challenges

Life is full of challenges. The challenges that await differ from one individual to another.

Aneem is grateful for the supportive people in her life.
In regards to her physical condition, Aneem stated that so far, "the only challenges I have to deal with are people pointing their finger straight to my face and say that I’m not human as well as asking me to stay away from their kids because I might scare them.”

It was challenging, but Aneem expressed her thankfulness for the supportive family and friends she has.

Her late father gave her the strength to succeed, said Ruziah.
As for Ruziah, she has always had to deal with those who underestimate her. Only when they learn of her academic background and achievements do they acknowledge her ability.

“However, there are still many people in the community who understand and treat me like the rest. I really appreciate them,” she said.

Making It Work

For Aiman, one of his greatest challenges was to convince people that he can work as hard as his able-bodied peers. 

“It is hard for people to trust me for a job because they see me like this. But, I can work," he lamented. 

Aiman is also able to provide the necessary service at the nasi lemak station
For the past 15 years, Aiman has been working at the same nasi lemak shop in Bandar Baru Bangi. He told us that he works well with his employer there.

Besides, he is such a famous figure amongst the locals who patronise the place! 

When Ruziah entered the workforce, she was able to prove her worth with the degree that she holds, her public speaking skill and her style of leadership. 

However, she admitted that it’s not always easy for her.

Ruziah has been resilient in facing the hurdles
“In business and at the workplace, there are also people who take advantage when they see me as a little person. Some tried to cheat me and there are those who are simply jealous of my ability and achievement in life to the extent that they did something bad behind me.”

So far, she has been resilient in facing the hurdles that come her way, but she said that extreme jealousy just shouldn’t be a thing.

“Able-bodied people should support us -- not be jealous of our achievements. They should be more motivated to improve themselves when they see us succeed,” said Ruziah.

“We should help each other to achieve our goals,” she added.

Dealing With Society’s Common Misconceptions

Being different than others inevitably attract misconceptions. All the three of them found themselves rolling out mutual points when the question of society’s common misconceptions about them was asked.

Most people simply think that they do not have the ability to execute even the simplest of a task.

“People’s perspective towards dwarfism; now that’s one of the things that need to be improved," according to Aneem.

Give them a chance and you'll see they are no different.
Aneem feels that generally, society views people like her as incapable beings and that they cannot survive without others to help them every time.

Besides her involvement in creative performances, Aneem is also into cooking, baking, and swimming. All these simply prove that those who underrate people like her are totally wrong.

“I want to learn more, so that I can be able to do anything and everything on my own, independently, without having to ask for help from other people and I want to give back to the community.” she said.

Ruziah knows her ability and the limits of it.
Things weren't any easier for Ruziah as well.

“There are still people who have negative thoughts about us. They doubt our ability to work and whether is it worth for us to be promoted,” she said, adding that she had even been ignored due to her physical difference.

“We want people to treat us just like other able-bodied people. We do not need sympathy but we need their assistance in certain circumstances.”

Doing what they can to survive.
As for Aiman, time and again, he sees the society undermining the ability of people like him when it comes to working. It becomes a problem for them to get a job since the foundation of trust simply could not be established.

“People have doubts over whether or not we can do the job. I think they should give us the chance to prove ourselves before conforming to the belief that we cannot do it. We can work too”. 

He also feels that engagements with people with dwarfism -- especially with those who live in the rural areas -- need to be taken more seriously.

“Back in Kuching, there are lots of dwarves. However, they don’t register themselves with the welfare department. Sometimes, their families keep them in the house in fear that they will be taken away.

"We need to change that perception so that these people with dwarfism too can be exposed to the real world and educated so that later, they can survive on their own too,” he said. 

After all that's said and done, their message is simple: don't look down on us.

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