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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 May 2007, 05:13 GMT 06:13 UK
Standing up for Cameroon's short people
By Francis Ngwa Niba
BBC News, Bamenda, Cameroon

Short people in Bamenda, north-western Cameroon are joining together to campaign for an end to what they say is discrimination by their taller compatriots.

Members of the association
Jonathan Fru (l) says billboards are too high for short people

They say they are treated like second-class citizens.

To spearhead their fight for equality, they have set up the Association of Short People in Cameroon (ASPC), which has been officially registered.

To belong to the association, prospective members have to be no taller than 1.60m (5'2").

This height limitation was increased from the original 1.56m, following protests from those who were taller than the intended limit but still considered themselves to be short people.

Height restrictions

Bamenda-based jurist and founding ASPC president, Jonathan Fru, 61, says the reasons for creating the association are simple.

Stephen Ngang
Joining this association has given me some self-esteem
Stephen Ngang, 1.20m (3'9")
"We felt that we should protect our interests. During recruitment, especially into the armed forces, there is always a height limit which disqualifies many short people [a person must be above 1.65m (5'4") to join the armed forces in Cameroon]," he says.

"Carpenters make chairs that are too high for us and so we are not comfortable sitting with others," he says.

"We have difficulties reaching high counters in shops and in banks, then to add insult to injury, all billboards are high up in the air and we have to strain to read them."

The associations' president adds that they have begun a vigorous campaign to right these wrongs and have so far met the provincial governor to table their grievances.

As if to prove that good things can come in small packages, the association has the shortest constitution I have ever come across - just two pages long.

They also have an anthem which is just two sentences long -"If you want to join the Short Peoples' Association, you just come, for we are peaceful, you just come".

'Abuse'

Stephen Ngang is the shortest registered member of the association and says he is living proof of the problems short people face daily.

Standing only 1.20m (3'9") and now 49 years old, he has no job and is still unmarried.

Do short people know we also have problems?
John, 2m (6'6")
"Joining this association has given me some self-esteem and I have now asked my elder sister to look for a wife for me," he says timidly.

He is unsure how he will feed his wife and children (if he has any), considering that he is jobless.

Mr Fru says he did not meet his wife, who is taller than him, until he was 30 years old - seen as late in Cameroon.

He blames his late social development squarely on the shoulders of his 1.53m (5') frame and the low self-esteem that this caused.

"I don't want other short people to suffer as I did, which is why I created this association," he says firmly.

Some tall people I met were, however, dismissive of the grouping of short people.

"Being short is not a problem - I wish I was shorter," said John, standing tall at 2m (6'6").

"Do short people know we also have problems?" he asked.

"Being too tall sometimes affects my balance and I need to bend down sometimes to listen to my short wife" he said jokingly.

A secondary school teacher blamed administrative officials for giving legal recognition to the association in the first place.

"It is an abuse and ridicules the laws regulating the creation of associations in Cameroon," he said.

Respect

Jaqueline Sirri, 25 and 1.56m (5'1"), is happily married but is still upset that she was disqualified from sitting for the army exams last year because of her height.

She says she is much happier since she joined the ASPC and wants the rights of all short men and women nationwide to be respected.

"We are normal human beings, our height notwithstanding," she says.

The short people deny discriminating against their taller brethren through their height restriction and insist that they do not see tall people as enemies.

They say they just want to be treated with the same respect as the rest of the population.


Is it harder for short people to succeed in life? Or do you think this campaign is a waste of time?

Your comments:

It is not hard for short people to succeed in life if he/she is determine. But here in Cameroon it is very difficult for a short person to have a job like joining the police force and the arm force. Recognising the ASPC it means things will change for the short people. Let the ASPC members go ahead with the struggle.
Kum Ignatius, Buea, Cameroon

As a tall person I regularly have to go down on my knees to retrieve snacks from vending machines, hotel showers are generally at shoulder height despite there being ample space for the shower head to be fitted higher, I have to squat to read the displays on ticket machines and some cash machines are below my waist height! It's lead to a life of backache! Oh to be 'average'!
Daniel, Guildford, UK

I am a Cameroonian and lived in Bamenda for about 20 years. The truth is nothing is built with accessibility access in Cameroon. The idea of an association for short people sounds like a joke. I must agree short people as disabled people face social discriminations in Cameroon which need to be addressed. However, we CANNOT have short people in the military. There are some jobs where height cannot be overlooked. On the positive side, as the Cameroonian military is the most inactive in the world, short and disabled people can realistically survive.
Muma Kaba, Newcastle - England

In my country short people are sometimes looked upon as being crooked and there are some who are referred to as 'Chiluba' - the former president owing to his plunder cases. I wouldn't know if it's harder but generally Zambians are short and it's not an issue really. Taller people are seen as being rather dull so... the campaign is worth it I guess.
Jethro, Lusaka, Zambia

I am just under five feet tall. When I lived in the US I was made to feel like a child sometimes, even when I was in my early 30s! It is hard for a woman to be taken seriously in some professional situations, and you have to augment your presence in other ways. Now that I have moved to South India where many adults are naturally short, height is simply not an issue for me any more. It depends solely on the culture of where you are living.
J MacKenzie Murthy, Bangalore, India

I think forming the "Association for Short people in Cameroon" is trying to duplicate associations, which by the end of the day serve the same purpose. To be born too short or too tall is a genetic problem, and it is quite difficult for one to run away from it. In other terms this is a disability, because it disables one to operate the same with other people, as they have narrated. I believe that they (Cameroonians) have an association or a ministry that takes care for the disabled, which this group of people should fall within. Why not affiliating themselves to this group. I am afraid, because people with too small or too large heads, etcetera, may start thinking of forming their associations as well.
Harris Manyozo, Lilongwe, Malawi

I think they are on the right track since there are a lot of discrimination based on beauty, height and other physical characteristics in daily social life. I think the next one should be the association of ugly peoples who are highly stigmatised form economic and social life.
Nukong, Kampala, Uganda

My height is only 1.43 m. I think it is harder to succeed in life as most of the time, people will not take me seriously. They think that I was still in high school where in fact my age is around 30. How could I nurture a networking (which is partly expected within my job) when people think I am too "young" (shorter people usually have baby face) to be seen as an important person?
Tia, Loughborough

What is important about a human being is his/her decency but not his/her height. Any decent person deserves to be treated with the same respect irrespective of his/her height. It goes without saying! My height is 1.74m. If a person is a decent and clever one then height of a person does not matter to the person.
Yuri Sevastyanov, Kharkov, Ukraine

I think its true that some facilities were not designed with such short people in mind, I therefore think that its time now for designers to think of this category as they think of disabled. Again, it is also true that they are discriminated from some jobs, but for the army I think there is a reason for doing that and I think its for their benefit and for the nation as well, in other jobs there is no point why they should not be taken. The campaign should go on!
Heri, Coventry, UK

I disagree, short people are far from being physically disabled, and yet people with disabilities are fighting and managing to succeed in this African Life. They just have to fight and excel in life, that's the best model for their counterparts. If a few succeed and excel, others will know it is possible and will do likewise.
Philippe Masengo, Lusaka

Here in the Sudan, people are treated according to their economic success. A rich short man is respected more than a poor tall man. And a well educated short man earns more respect and special treatment than uneducated tall man. So short people in Cameroun should learn to fit in the changes of the present world.
Idra Kimu, Juba, Sudan

The story of my life. Being from Venezuela but from Bolivian stock. My Mother raised my brother and I in Trinidad where people are tall, and it seemed that apart from being way out ethnically our short height, always seemed to matter. At high school a guy always bullied me just because I was short. Later in life and back in Venezuela a sad marriage flopped head over heels because my girl shunned my stature. Hence all my life I became keenly aware of the subject and questioned parents who were short and whose sons were tall, and then set to test a theory with exit on my first child who is now 11. Inspired on Wattusi's up thrust dance, I had him ever soaring up and everyone says now he is quite tall for his age and had it not been for his face one would have second thoughts that he was my son. Nutrition-wise I also followed some good counsel and it did the trick. In our values distorted society yes height plays a role but you just have to be from Lilliput (a fictional kingdom where people were small) to understand.
Antonio Cardenas, Caracas, Venezuela

I think this campaign is a complete waste of time since there is no discrimination existing... what matters most to anyone is the sound faculty that one possesses. There are more things in life that one should worry about than just indulging oneself in self-pettiness.
Mahmoud A Ali, Benghazi, Libya

Success in life does not depend on height, I have seen quite a number of short but successful men and women in East Africa. Well they are entitled to their opinions.
Juma Delu, Juba, South Sudan

Congratulations to those people who have come out to share their views and the problems that they face in regards to their height. Well I am a Papua New Guinean, female student attending one of the finest university in my country and I am 159cm tall aged 20. There is nothing wrong with either being tall or short. Everyone is created by God according to His own likeness and image and we should not discriminate anyone according to their physical appearance. If in the case of applying for a job, our qualifications should be the far most important point to look at then simple measures such as height difference and so forth. No matter the height difference life has so many things to offer, you can succeed in whatever you want to do in life, and not bow down to any criticism or barriers in life. We are all controllers of our own life and in order to succeed you have to keep your head up high and go forward to achieve your dreams. This campaign is a very good way to inform everyone that height doesn't matter but it is what's inside you that counts in the end.
Joanne Map Kilip, Papua New Guinea

I think it is harder for short people to succeed in life. In general, people always tend to say looks don't matter, but when someone sees you, the first impression they form of you is on your appearance and the above dilemma in this story applies to fat people as well. Seriously, the first time a person meets a fat person, the first thing that comes to their mind is 'oh, this guy is faaat!' The same goes for short people. It's hard to have a high self esteem when people tend to form this negative mindset barrier the moment they see you just because of the way you look, without taking into consideration your personality. And I speak from experience, people always make fun of short people or fat people and I know again from a personal experience that such people indeed tend to suffer socially and have a low self esteem. I don't think it's fair for them.
Basira Ali Ahmed, Dubai, UAE

Defining success in short people and tall people, I think only depends on the choice of one person's career to pursue. That's why I would say that the height of a person is not a basis of succeeding in life's journey it is in his/her will and goals in life. I can't say your successful because your a billionaire and neither unsuccessful of being in the middle class of society. Finally, I will say that a person's success in life can only be measure by himself alone whether he/she is content in the life he/she stands in society and not because of his height or any physical differences.
Jemuel Lao Digaum, Iligan City, Philippines

It's true that we usually despise the people who are shorter than the average high. I myself find that people in Taiwan also prefer higher to shorter. This association reminds us that there still have a lot of different kinds of abuse of human rights, and therefore, we have to instil the concept of human rights in our next generation.
Tseng, Taipei, Taiwan

It's not your height that matters, it's your heart. Just consider little Zacchaeus when and after he met Jesus.
Peter Hussey Yeo, Southsea, UK

It's a good thing to have such an organization. Even here in Kenya it is very hard for a short person to join the military. I wish we had such an organization in Kenya.
George Ovuyi Chunza, Nairobi, Kenya




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Cameroon
07 Mar 07 |  Country profiles



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