Pidia Joseph Allieu has made it his life’s work to eradicate sexual violence in Sierra Leone.
Although the precise figures are impossible to confirm, it’s estimated that more than 200,000 women were the victims of gender-related violence during the country’s devastating 1991-2002 civil war – and this legacy of abuse has endured.
As a teacher at the Husband School, Pidia attempts to make fundamental changes in the arena where some of the worst crimes are committed – marriage.
He leads classes for men in a rural area in eastern Sierra Leone, inviting them to share their views on the treatment of women and helping them to build a better understanding of the consequences of their attitudes and actions.
For many of these men – some past retirement age – this is the first time they have been in a formal classroom situation, but once a week for six months they take a break from their work and voluntarily participate in the training sessions. The idea is to open their minds to the bigger picture and encourage them to embark on a different, more mutually respectful relationship with their wives.
It is also not unusual for Pidia to be the first point of contact when a family reaches crisis point and acts of violence are committed.
“People trust me because my family have always lived in this neighbourhood; it’s why they call me first rather than the police,” he says.
But, as with many NGO projects in Sierra Leone, funding for the Husband School is inconsistent and Pidia goes months on end without payment. Nevertheless, Pidia is determined to continue his work, knowing that many families in the community rely on his support.
“I am not doing my job for money,” says Pidia. “It’s a passion. Because I know it’s life-saving.”
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