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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Portrait of a Nation: The little person looking to make a big difference

Zahra Khumri wants to show the world that dwarfs have a lot to offer

Zahra Khumri, who stands at 1.25 metres tall, with her daughter Zoya, 9. Reem Mohammed / The National
Zahra Khumri, who stands at 1.25 metres tall, with her daughter Zoya, 9. Reem Mohammed / The National

Small in stature does not stop one from having big ambitions.

That is the mantra that Zahra Khumri tells other 'little people' in the support group she founded, after seeing her daughter, who also has the condition, unfairly stared at by other pupils at school.

Mrs Khumri founded Little People of UAE as a means for those with dwarfism to discuss their problems together, offer guidance and to showcase to others that they have just as much talent and intelligence as anyone else.

“It is very difficult to hire a person at the highest post if you are height restricted. Many members of our group work as ushers in restaurants or supermarkets, but they are really talented and can go miles,” says Mrs Khumri, who is 1.26 metres tall.

“Intelligence levels for us are very good, and we are there in all walks of life; you’ll find some working in medicine, engineering, we have writers, TV professionals.”

The idea for the group, which has 16 members so far, came when her daughter Zoya, 9, who inherited her mother’s dwarfism, started going to school.

“In schools, kids have very young minds and, until you put it in their mind that not everybody is tall, beautiful, fair, they will not be aware that dwarfism is simply a condition and not a disease,” says Ms Khumri.

“She was getting the glares, etc, so she was asking, ‘why is it so?’ So I thought, ‘why not start a group only for little people?’,” says the 38-year-old computer engineer.

“[It was great] to get together under one roof and share our stories, to motivate little kids that height is not a prejudice and don’t associate it with knowledge.”

With different age groups, from toddlers to teenager to adults, Little People of UAE offers guidance to dwarfs “from small things to college selection” and they also try to raise awareness of their condition by taking part in public events like poetry recitation, art and school talks.

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'Do not overlook us because of our size'

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“The main thing is that we all meet together. And to display to other little people that our world is also there and there are similar people like us, so don’t hide at home, come out,” says Ms Khumri.

While she says she has not experienced any serious discrimination in the UAE, day-to-day life still has its challenges.

“There are small, day-to-day activities that you come across that you cannot perform and you need assistance, and people don’t realise that,” she says.

The “endless list of complications” include getting into a car, walking on the street, going to a public bathroom - “even special needs bathrooms are too high for us. The handles on bathroom doors are also too high. The world is made for 5 feet and above”.

“Some malls have a kids’ washroom with a low wash basin, so we use that,” she adds.

Little People of UAE doesn’t have enough members, Ms Khumri says, so she is encouraging more dwarfs to come along to meetings, and the more members, the more they can do collectively to raise awareness of their condition.

“I am sure we will create the awareness we need; we did some talks in schools, then there are children who give motivational talks, and a little girl who did a talk with poetry,” she says.

Mrs Khumri said her group got more recognition after she appeared on the second season of the UAE show Salaam Namaste, which focuses on South Asians that make a difference in the community.

She said the show “provided us an opportunity to engage with people and society and spread awareness about little people”.

“To be short is a natural genetic gift and, though the programme, I wanted to tell people that we short people are proud as we are and live our lives in its entirety,” she added.

Her priority, she says, is to spread the message that height has nothing to do with knowledge.

“We are normal human beings, we don’t have a contagious disease,” she says.

For more information on the group, visit www.facebook.com/groups/littlepeopleofuae.

Bio box:

Name: Zahra Khumri

Age: 37

Education: Bachelor of Engineering in Computers, Mumbai University, India

Work: Administrative executive at Integreat Center, volunteer with Mawaheb, an art studio for adults with special needs

Favourite hobbies: Reading a newspaper, exploring new places and meeting new people

Favourite book: The Alchemist

Favourite colour: White, "the colour of purity and peace"