by Marwa Yahya
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, May 25 — “Dwarfs in Egypt suffer problems of bullying and marginalization. Football is the fastest way to make us a part of the society,” said Mohamed al-Masry, goal keeper of an Egyptian football team for dwarfs.
“Kind Stars,” the first football team for dwarfs in Egypt, is composed of 20 players from different provinces across the North African country.
The team took part in an annual football competition in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“Kind Stars” played on Wednesday with another team of people of normal stature and they won the match.
“It is an amazing experience not just to form a football team, but also to play with normal people. We felt integrated in the society,” al-Masry told Xinhua.
“When we played football, the people will see us and their opinions about our disability will be changed,” the 28-year-old folklore dancer said.
He dreams that “Kind Stars” will be a nucleus in building a national team for dwarfs that could compete at the international level.
Al-Masry is one of the 75,000 dwarfs living in Egypt, and his job leaves him in a minority of the already marginalized group, which is largely barred from the workplace because of discrimination.
In addition to endemic social prejudice and ridicule, many dwarfs say the government’s neglect has led to widespread problems, including pervasive unemployment and a lack of affordable healthcare.
In 2012, the Association for the Welfare of Dwarfs (AWDA) in Alexandria, second largest city of Egypt, was launched to defend the rights of dwarfs against a host of socio-economic obstacles.
The association now boasts a general assembly of around 120 members with branches in the capital Cairo as well as the Suez Canal cities of Port Said and Ismailia.
The AWDA achieved an unprecedented victory in 2014 when dwarfs were recognized in a constitutional amendment.
It is Article 81 in the 2014 Constitution that stipulates that “the state is committed to ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities and dwarfs in terms of healthcare, economic and social rights, in the fields of culture, entertainment, sports and education.”
By international standards, adults who measure 147 cm or less in height are legally recognized as dwarfs. Depending on the medical cause of the condition, some of them may suffer serious health complications, but most live long, healthy lives and do not consider themselves disabled.
Egypt launched in February 2019 a national health campaign aimed at detecting and tackling anemia, dwarfism and obesity among pupils nationwide.
From Feb. 17 to April 2, the first phase targeted 11.5 million students at both governmental and private schools.
“But despite the gains achieved, neither the state nor private businessmen are standing with us in terms of providing employment opportunities for dwarfs,” said Ahmad Abdel Raziq, coach of the football team.
Raziq said his team faces troubles in transport, and the lack of funds and sponsorships.
“The sport is the dwarfs’ gate for social integration that would ultimately lead to greater success later in life,” he said, highlighting several success stories of the short-stature people in athletics and weight lifting.
The coach pointed out that the problems facing the dwarfs have lessened thanks to the efforts exerted by the civil society organizations.
“When I joined the team, my life has significantly changed. The people used to give me strange looks and bully me. But now, I go out with the team and have many activities that helped me out of the isolation I had lived in for many years,” said Waleed Abdullah, a 30-year-old defender of the team.
Abdullah wished that his team could be qualified for the Dwarf World Cup which will take place in October.
He called on the Egyptian government to form a national team of dwarfs by following the models of Morocco, Jordan, Uruguay and Argentina.
Aly Shaaban, a member of the potential Egyptian Federation for Dwarfs, said he is working on registering “Kind Stars” as a national team, saying “Kind Stars” includes talented players who could help beat other world teams. – XINHUA