Cameroon: The Watch ‘Doctor’

In northern Cameroon, disability can be a real tragedy, but Bashir’s story is rich in faith and goodwill.

The difficulty that come with walking on crutches has certainly not discouraged Bachir Apollinaire, a 36-year-old young man born to a farming family from Yagoua in the far-northern regions of Cameroon. His adventure begins as do those of many other disabled people, but his tenacity and his projects make him stand out from the majority. Despite the objective difficulties he has confronted during his life, he has not become discouraged, always wanting to overcome his physical limitations thanks to an iron will and a mature faith.

It was in the fourth grade that he noticed his first knee problems. At the hospital, he was diagnosed with “suspected bone tuberculosis”. The nuns who looked after the Caritas parish took Bachir to see specialist doctors, but in the end, even they concluded that his condition could not be treated in Cameroon. The only solution would be to go to Europe, to a specialized hospital. But, lacking the necessary economic resources, Bachir was forced to endure with his disability.

Having dropped out of school, his mother took him to another city, where the boy was placed under observation and care for a year. In circumstances that can only be described as miraculous, the illness did not progress. It stopped spreading. But, shortly thereafter, Bachir’s mother died, and he was left to live with his father, who is illiterate and unable to deal with the complications involved in finding treatments, or cures. He also lacked the financial means to pursue treatments for his boy. Thus, there was nothing left to do but for the family to resign before the disability.

Bachir wanted to live, despite the poverty that both surrounded and discouraged him. Everyone told to give up and live as a disabled person, that is as one forced to depend upon others’ decisions. It was then that, thanks to a small loan obtained from a cousin, Bachir took two years to start a tiny business, setting it up on the street and right in front of the house. He earned enough to address his basic needs. It was also then that he realized that God had not abandoned him, that He was accompanying him, and that his illness did not have to be an obstacle. Indeed, it could be his strength.

Meanwhile, he learned that in Garoua, about 300 kilometres away from his residence, there was a technical school where he could learn to become an electrician after a year of study. Even if he could produce an elementary school diploma, Bachir decided to ask the centre’s Principal for permission to take the course: “I have no money to pay for training, but I have the will to learn and the need to survive.” The Principal was taken with the boy, who showed courage against the odds. Exceptionally, the Principal allowed Bachir to enrol in the program at no cost.

During training, Bachir learned to repair fans, radios and watches. He has no theoretical knowledge, but he got plenty of hands-on experience, trying to uncover the secrets of this profession. Later he managed to find a ‘repairman/craftsman’ who welcomed him for a two-year long apprenticeship at his workshop.

In February 2013, Bachir returned to Yagoua. In the family nobody had any idea that the boy had his very own productive and skilled activity. He was allowed to keep some of the tools from his training, which he used to repair his fellow neighbourhood residents’ electrical gadgets. Bachir found a place to rent in the market and opened his own shop, calling it ‘The Clock Doctor’. Little by little, Bachir also learned to detect cell phone faults using a computer. Today, Bachir’s workshop has gained a reputation as one best places in the city to get a cell phone sorted. And, thanks to his work and business, Bachir can live with dignity.

However, Bachir has never forgotten the effort he made to begin his activity. Understanding what it means to struggle all too well, he decided to open his shop to other young people, who may not have had the good fortune to study. The first to be welcomed is Amadou, a young person with a physical disability who has no family to support him. “God has supported me, and now it’s up to me to give back” said Bachir.

In this adventure, apart from his illness, Bachir faced no shortage of other difficulties. A few months after the store opened, thieves broke the door twice and stole everything. His disappointment deepened after he discovered that one of those arrested for the break-in was a young man he had taken in as an apprentice. Since many of the stolen items were recovered, Bachir asked the police to release the thieves from custody, adding to their astonishment when he explained that: “hunger and poverty led them to commit a crime. They are worth more than what they stole from me. Let’s give them another chance.”

Bachir did not regret this decision. He speaks proudly of Joseph, one of his apprentices, who has studied and who has been able to surpass his own technical knowledge. In gratitude, occasionally Joseph sends a financial contribution to help Bachir upgrade the shop: “God has many ways of helping people; you never forget.” During his journey, Bachir got married and has a family. He now has three daughters, aged five, eight and ten. His dream is for his children to grow up according to principles of strong will, work and faith.

In addition, Bachir also has other ‘medium-term projects’ in mind. In fact, he is convinced that ‘to make dreams come true you have to roll up your sleeves.’ The first project is to redeem the land that his father cultivated, because “watches cannot be eaten, and the products that are cultivated are tastier.” Using a small loan to rent a half a hectare of rice paddies, Bachir is proud that ‘his’ rice is growing well, expecting it will yield 80 bags. If everything goes according to plan, the paddy field area should increase next season. Still, Bachir has no shortage of courage or tenacity. The second plan is to buy a motorcycle for the disabled.

The distances between the workshop, home, customers and the rice fields are large; therefore, it is difficult to keep up with everything. Meanwhile, Bachir has started to save in order to gain access to higher credit. He is bold, knowing that sooner or later he will get there. And for him it means ‘he has arrived’, as nobody would have bet on a poor disabled person. Bachir’s life shows “that nothing is impossible for God, but everyone must do his part”.

(Fabio Mussi)

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