Bali Tobias works as a driver and night watchman for Himalayan Institute Cameroon (HIC). Behind the wheel, he has braved the height of the rainy season and some of rural Africa’s most treacherous roads in order to bring the Total Health Mobile Unit to villages as far north as the Adamawa Region, some nine hours away. Back at home, he stands guard over the Institute campus and helps with maintenance. He is married with four children.
Bali was born in Kumbo. His family compound is in Sar-Ntoh, in the shadow of the Fon’s palace, where the extended royal family lives. He attended primary school in the relatively prosperous coastal city of Buea, but his parents lacked the funds to finish his education. Even as a boy, Bali earned money doing small jobs in a mechanic’s shop. He was taught to drive, but was never able to pay the fee for his license.
When the first representatives of HIC arrived in July 2007, the local king sent Bali as part of the original welcoming party. He was asked to stay on and has been with the Institute ever since. “I enjoy very much working here because my job has given me so many opportunities,” says Bali. “I never had a driving license, but it was provided to me, and now I am paying my fees on time.”
Bali has endured many setbacks in his life, but when asked about the prospect of furthering his education, he does not dwell on what-ifs. “At my age, it is my children who need to be helped in school. I would rather send them all to secondary school.” He is proud that his eldest daughter, now 15, has already gone further in her studies than either of her parents.
Francis is also a night watchman at HIC. Together with Bali, they make a formidable team. Francis was born in Kumbo and has lived here for most of his life. His night watchman career started in 1985, in the city of Bamenda, but Kumbo soon called him home, where he continued guarding other people’s property.
Guarding the HIC Community Center isn’t new for Francis. He was watching the same building during its previous incarnation as an abandoned coffee cooperative office. Like Bali, Francis heard about HIC through the local king and was one of the first to join us. “Since I’ve started working here, I’ve done so many different things, especially during the day. Working here allows me to buy farming supplies to feed me and my daughter.”