Safe House by Kim Rosen

Reading to fund girls’ education

In 2006, Kim Rosen arrived at the Tasaru Safe House in Narok, Kenya, and stood before a group of Maasai girls who had run away from their homes, and their tribe’s traditions of female genital mutilation and early marriage, seeking education and an alternate way of life.

“I went with very personal, in a way, self-centered reasons, which was that I’ve always been very shy,” Rosen said by phone. A performance poet and educator who teaches workshops on the transformative powers of self-expression, Rosen clarified that she’s not shy onstage.

“But I always have been very shy personally, and I figured if I could come out of myself and relate to these 50 teenage girls, in a culture that was totally other than my own, I would make great strides in overcoming my shyness.”

Rosen had long heard of the Safe House from her friend Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues” and founder of V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. In 2002, V-Day provided the funding for the Safe House, which was founded by Agnes Pareyio, a Maasai woman who spent years traveling by foot from village to village, teaching people about the harms of female genital mutilation in an effort to end its practice.

“I had been a great follower and supporter of V-Day, but I had never personally gone out beyond my own comfort zone until I went to the Safe House,” Rosen said. “I was so shy I didn’t know what to say to them; I was completely frozen.” Without having thought of the poem for years, Rosen began to recite “The Journey,” by Mary Oliver. Before long, most of the girls, and Rosen, were in tears.

Among the Maasai, women are not allowed to go to school. Those bold enough to run away from home to the Safe House are provided for, fed and educated. But, by law, the girls can only stay until they’ve graduated from high school; at that point they often return to their villages.

“It’s always Agnes’ intention to bring the girls back to the community to, in a very public ceremony, create a reconciliation with the parents,” Rosen said, “and to show the community this beautiful, educated young woman, and what the alternative to FGM and enforced childhood marriage can look like. But they don’t have support to create a lifestyle for themselves other than what they’ve seen before, which is getting married and having babies.”

In 2010, Rosen set up the Safe House Education Fund and began to sponsor the first girl, Jacinta, through college — including all costs, a total of $3,500. Jacinta now works for the SHE Fund. Rosen obtained fiscal sponsorship and found a handful of people who together were able to support four more girls through college. Currently, 15 girls are enrolled, with five more entering the program this year.

A fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 11, features readings by poets and early SHE Fund supporters Ellen Bass, Marie Howe, Jane Hirshfield and Rosen, with a special performance by vocalist Melanie DeMore.


Benefit poetry reading for SHE College Fund: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11. $25-$3,500, St. John’s Episcopal Church, 2727 College Ave., Berkeley.

This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Photo by Leisa Jennings

Other book events

Steve Wasserman, Clara Bingham, Willie Brown Jr. and Judy Gumbo present “Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement,” by the late Tom Hayden (6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, Mechanics Institute Library, 57 Post St., S.F. $15).

Galería de la Raza’s Lunada Literary Lounge opens its spring season with performances by ASHA, Joseph Jason Santiago LaCour and Raphael Cohen, with an open mike signup (7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, 2857 24th St., S.F. $5).

Writers With Drinks features readings by cartoonist Tom Tomorrow (“This Modern World”), writer Sarah Schulman (“Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility and the Duty of Repair”), theoretical physicist Sean Carroll (“The Particle at the End of the Universe”), Jennifer Ouellette (“Me, Myself and Why: Searching for the Science of Self”) and writer Alia Volz (“Hoof”) (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, 3225 22nd St., S.F. $5-$20).

George Saunders returns to the JCCSF to talk with Dana Spiotta about his latest book, “Lincoln in the Bardo,” from which Word for Word Performing Arts Company will read a passage. All tickets include a copy of the book (7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, 3200 California St., S.F. $48-$60).