In the heart of Kenya, Mary Solio found refuge from a forced marriage but not from female circumcision -- two cultural traditions that some women in the Masai tribe are working to change.
Most of the 61 Masai girls who arrived recently at the V-Day Safe House for Girls came for a short course on the consequences of female circumcision.
But 14 of them, including 16-year-old Solio, have sought refuge in the haven that was formally opened April 8 by Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," the widely produced play about women and their bodies.
A year ago, Solio's parents forced her to undergo circumcision, a Masai right of passage known to critics as female genital mutilation. Within weeks she was married to a man more than three times her age, another common Masai tradition. Four months later, she fled into the forest, alone and -- though she didn't know it at the time -- pregnant.
She spent the next seven months at a school for girls outside this small dusty town, about 70 miles west of Nairobi, fighting off attempts by her husband and family to force her home. Late last month, her baby was born.
Now she lives at the safe house, where her baby will be cared for while she attends school.
The project was launched by Agnes Pareyio, a 45-year-old Masai woman who began visiting villages throughout southwestern Kenya a decade ago to educate women about the dangers of female circumcision.
As a member of a local village council, Pareyio learned that many girls were dropping out of school in their early teens because of circumcision and marriage.
"When the girls get circumcised, they are considered women, they can't go to school anymore," she said. "If they are married, they must stay home and take care of their husbands."
In Masai circumcision, the clitoris is removed, usually without anesthesia. Some women bleed to death during the procedure, and others are infected the AIDS virus, because the razor blades are unclean, Pareyio said.
Ensler met Pareyio on a trip to Kenya two years ago and said it was clear the Masai woman's "pure will was changing this culture . . . freeing women."
Ensler began financing Pareyio's campaign, first buying her a vehicle so she could visit more villages, then providing the $65,000 for the safe haven -- two cinder-block buildings with rooms for the girls, offices and a cafeteria.
An estimated 130 million women, most of them in Africa, have been subjected to ritual genital cutting. The number is believed to grow by up to 2 million each year.
The practice is illegal in 18 countries, nine of them in Africa. It was outlawed in Kenya earlier this year but is still widespread.
Although figures are not available on the number of Kenyan Masai women circumcised each year, Pareyio said she has seen attitudes begin to change in the tribe, which has herded cattle in East Africa for generations.
"Circumcision is very much part of Masai culture; it will not change in a quick amount of time," Pareyio said. "But look here today, we have 60 girls who will not be circumcised, who will not be forced into marriage. That is a change."