In a recent interview with PUNCH, this graduate of International Law and Diplomacy, Miss Toyosi Akinrele who stands at a height of 81.3cm narrates how her small stature has been a blessing to her.
At what age did your parents discover that you stopped growing?
I actually don’t know. My dad would tell better if he was alive, because he measured me all the time and kept the records. I didn’t stop growing. My growth was not static, it was just slow. When I started school, I was over two years. But I was looking small and the headteacher thought I was not ripe for school. She refused to admit me. But after a while, she reluctantly said I should write an aptitude test. When I spelt my name and was halfway to pronouncing my surname, she quickly agreed that I should start and said even the ones that started before me could neither spell their names nor write properly.
How did your parents feel at that time?
God gave them the grace to accept what they could not change. I eventually became my dad’s favourite. I was a brilliant child and we had birthmarks in the same place. We had some things in common. My brilliance helped my family not to think of my challenge, rather, they encouraged my ability. I was shown extra love and I almost became a spoilt brat. The love from both my nuclear and extended families made other children jealous of me. My family accepts me the way I am and encourages me. They have been very supportive.
Is there anyone with same challenge in your family?
No. There is none. I am the only one. Members of my family from both sides, both nuclear and extended, are either tall or of average heights. It is usually detected during pregnancy if a child will be small but mine was not detected. Sometimes, I forget I am small because of the kind of family and friends that surround me.
It is believed that people with your kind of challenge often have ear infection. Have you experienced such?
No. I have never experienced such. I know that some people with my kind of challenge have spinal issues, ear infections, breathing problems or hunch back. But I have none. I am medically fit. I have never had any sickness that can be attributed to my challenge.
I do not see myself as being challenged. May be because of my personality, I believe that it is the way one presents himself that he will be addressed. In Africa, when people have height challenges, they attribute it to something spiritual. Some see such persons as gods. They just do not think it is natural. And medically, it could be genetic, but my parents are tall. I think it is the way God wants it.
Have you ever been embarrassed on the street?
Except on few occasions, the only embarrassment I can think of is when I walk on the street and someone suddenly sees me, exclaims and backs off. For me, when I walk on the road and people look at me, I do not feel it, except when I was growing up, but as time went on, it stopped bothering me. Sometimes when I go out, people compliment me, some admire me, some will walk up to me and say “you look beautiful” and I will say “thank you.” I have received more compliments than embarrassments.
Do you feel bad about your height?
No. I do not feel bad in anyway. I do not see being small as bad. Actually it has been a blessing in disguise. If I can come back to this world again, I wouldn’t mind being small. I think I have enjoyed some privileges most tall people don’t enjoy.
I had an experience during the 2011 general elections. Youth corps members were being recruited for the elections as ad hoc staff. I really wanted to do it but I was scared that I would not be taken. I went with a friend to the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission to register. When I told my friend that I had a feeling that my name was cancelled, she doubted it and said we should go there. We discovered that my name was actually cancelled and I was angry. My friend was angry too. The INEC officer who intervened promised that my name would be re-included. But it was not. That was one of the instances when I felt my self esteem was threatened. And I felt really bad. Another instance was when I went for a job interview. I knew I did well in the interview but I was not offered the job.
What has been your motivation?
One thing that motivates me is my confidence. I can respond to anything and I am able to express myself. I cannot be intimidated. I am educated too. I believe in God. I believe in Psalm 139 verse 14 and Jeremiah 29 verse 11 that say “I am fearfully and wonderfully made ’, ‘Marvelous are thy works and that my soul knoweth right well.’ There were moments I used to ask ‘God why me?’, but at a point, I started asking, ‘Why not me?’ If it was not me, would I have loved it to be my mum or my siblings?
What experiences did you have during your university days and service year?
I was not discriminated against in school. My height stood me out in school and made me popular. The only thing was the kind of look I got from new students in school. But they later got used to seeing me. They would pretend not to be looking at me, but when I turn to look at them, our eyes would meet. I was friends with the vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellor, registrar and lecturers. I had fun and I enjoyed my stay in orientation camp. The camp commandant gave me more attention. I participated in the drills, I made a lot of friends and more especially, I re-united with some of my old friends. My camping was in Iseyin, Ibadan, but I redeployed to Abeokuta. My place of primary assignment was the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. I attended seminars, conferences, carried out some social works, and visited motherless babies’ homes.
How will you encourage short people?
I want to change the way they present themselves. For example, in movie production, they do not give them the roles of rich people, except in the cases of ‘Aki and Pawpaw.’ It is either they make them beggars, clowns or give them other funny roles. Sometimes, they are on the streets doing funny things, or manufacturers employ them to promote their products on the streets. When they take up these funny roles, they are actually encouraging people to laugh at them the more. The fact that they have physical challenges does not mean they cannot do better things.
They should not see being small as a challenge. They should turn it into an ability. They should get educated, get a job and engage in things that would not make people think less of them than who they are.
Do you have ‘small’ friends like you?
No. It is not because I do not see them but I have not had the courage to approach them. I am sure they have an association. I had an encounter with some of them sometime. One evening, I was in the car with my brother along Maryland, he was driving past them while they were selling movies. One of them got closer to the car, peeped in and saw me. Then he beckoned on the rest of them to come and I was screaming. My brother said I shouldn’t be scared and wound the window up. I haven’t had the courage to mingle with them. The only person I got a bit close to was a small girl in my secondary school.
Are you in a relationship?
Yes, I am in a relationship. I am dating someone but he is not a small person like I am.