(Cami Chou is Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara alumna. Girls Inc. is a sponsor of the Her Festival, March 8th, at Girsh Park in Goleta.)
Every year, on March 8th, women around the world join each other in celebrating International Women’s Day. Dating back to suffragists in 1914 Germany, this day is dedicated to commend the achievements, as well as honor the struggles, of women from all backgrounds.
This International Women’s Day, the student-organization Voices of the Community will bring you Her Festival. The goal of this event is to celebrate the accomplishments of the women in our community as well as inspire a new generation of young female leaders. My name is Cami Chou, and I am Co-President and founder of Voices of the Community and Her Festival, the event that changed my life.
Her Festival will be a free, public event meant to celebrate the women in our community and empower the next generation of female leaders. This family friendly event will feature a main stage with female performers and keynote speakers, local food trucks, and a rock wall. Attendees can learn about amazing programs for girls and women from local organizations and nonprofits, talk to women in a diverse range of fields from entrepreneurship to engineering to aviation, or browse products created by female artisans. Her Festival will provide many fun activities, from arts and crafts booths to henna and free face-painting. It will be a day of celebration, inspiration, and empowerment
My inspiration for the festival came from my experiences. I have always been passionate about STEM and the way science and math can make order out of a complex world, but being a girl in these fields isn’t always easy. However interesting computer science might be, it can be difficult to feel comfortable when you’re one of the few girls in the class. It becomes difficult to overlook the fact that only one in seven engineers are women, to shake the idea that I don’t belong, or to imagine my future career when I see so few who look like me.
I realized that this is not just an individual problem. Many girls and women with different dreams face the same obstacles. At some point, we have all been intimidated by the gender gap, we have all lacked the support we needed, and we have all looked for representation that just wasn’t there. I have been very fortunate to have access to incredible, empowering programs that support girls trying to make their way in a male-dominated world, like my school’s Women in Technology Club, or the Engineering Academy, where they strive to achieve an equal gender balance. It has made such a difference to be surrounded by such an encouraging, uplifting environment. But not all girls have that community support.
This is really at the core of Her Festival’s mission. Every day, girls choose not to raise their hands in class for fear of being singled out, for fear of being different. Every day, girls apologize for having an opinion. Every day, girls deny themselves the opportunity to try something out of their comfort zone because they don’t think it’s “for them”.
So, alongside my sister Mia and one of my best friends, we dreamt up Her Festival as our way of making a difference for these girls. Her Festival will provide an inclusive and supportive environment for young women to explore all the endless possibilities that are open to them, and for everyone to celebrate amazing women, both in our community and our world. We also created our organization, Voices of the Community, which is now an unincorporated non-profit business entity as well as a ratified school club, and built a team of dedicated high school students with the purpose of making Her Festival a reality.
Although we had this vision, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. There was a lot for us to figure out on our own: creating a business, making a website, getting insurance, organizing vendors and volunteers, and managing advertising campaigns just to name a few. And that doesn’t include the $30,000 we budgeted and raised to produce the event. In the past year, I have probably spent more time working on the festival than sleeping. has caused much stress and anxiety, it also has been so rewarding.
Though this whole process has been by no means easy, the people I met along the way and the lessons I learned have made it all worthwhile. What started off as cold emails turned into phone calls, then in person meetings. Each person we met was full of advice and insight, and I was amazed how willing everyone was to support us as well as how much they believed in our mission. Experienced event organizers from around the community gave us advice and wisdom. Members of the community encouraged us and supported us along the way. Organizations such as Girls Inc. helped us gain the right connections, and so many others have given us the opportunity to spread our message. Because of them, we have shared our mission at countless networking events, workshops, radio interviews, and even the Women’s March.
Through all this, I have had the opportunity to meet the most amazing women. Women who fight every day for the rights of girls. Women who have built business empires. Women who run organizations and nonprofits, or dedicate themselves to volunteering and giving back to their community. All of these women have truly inspired me, through their accomplishments and work, as well as their kindness and generosity. These formidable women listened to a couple of girls with an idea and gave us the tools we needed to make our dreams a reality. This is why Her Festival is not just about empowering the youth, but is also about celebrating the women that make our community so special.
Although this event was created to be a gift from us to the community, this journey of making this dream a reality has really been a gift from the community to us. Through all this I have learned so many priceless skills and met enough amazing women to inspire me for a lifetime. I have gained so much confidence in myself, my potential, and the power of my voice. I hope Her Festival will inspire other girls. I hope it will show them what we can do when we are given the support, encouragement and leadership skills. It has been said before, and it will be said again: young people are the future. Young women are the future. We invite you to join us at Her Festival, March 8th.
Photo credit: Through Juri’s Lens Photography
For more information: herfestivalsb.com