THE SAFE HOUSE
For years, Agnes Pareyio walked through Kenya’s Rift Valley carrying an ice chest. Upon arrival to her destination, she gathered the villagers around her. Occasionally, Agnes entered a classroom, but most of the time she stood out in the open under the enormous African sky.
From the ice chest, she removed an anatomically-correct plastic model of a woman’s genitals and began to speak. “I know it’s not normal for a mama like me to speak about or show you a body like this, but we are in a learning situation,” she said. Using her model, Agnes revealed to the group what a normal clitoris looks like and then methodically removed parts to show the various stages of genital mutilation.
Agnes, who is Maasai, grew up in Narok, Kenya, in the same area where she is now running an organization to stop the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). At the age of 14, she was circumcised against her will. When we met for the first time in 2000, Agnes had already rescued over 1,500 girls from being mutilated. When we met again two years later, she was supervising the final days of the construction of a Safe House for Girls in Narok, which was financed by the organization V-DAY (founded by playwright, Eve Ensler). In 2005, Agnes was elected Deputy Mayor of Narok.
Today Agnes holds three “Alternative Rituals” a year, hosting over 150 girls at each. She is credited with rescuing thousands of girls from early marriage and FGM. Her efforts have ensured that each of these girls would be awakened into her womanhood by education and not being mutilated against her will.
I returned to Narok with Eve Ensler and V-DAY staff and supporters in August 2009. Agnes had just opened her second safe house in the village of Sakutiek. We also attended a reconciliation ceremony where a young girl who escaped FGM three years prior was reunited with her family. I then spent a week living in the Safe House in Narok with the girls who live there while they were on their recess from boarding school. All the girls have been able to continue with their education.