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Girl’s Festival Promises to Open Eyes

By Donna Furey | LB Indy

To help Laguna Beach girls envision life in other parts of the world, they can slip on a burka to experience the invisibility of Afghan women looking out of a cage, hand grind coffee as many Guatemalan girls do instead of attending school, or carry jugs of water while balancing food baskets on their heads like girls in African villages without running water.

The creators of the Healthy Girl Festival believe that education about obstacles faced by girls their own age elsewhere around the world plants the seeds of empathy and perspective that can blossom into girl-powered change. The fun and enlightenment begins at 10:30 a.m., on Sunday, April 27, on the Festival of Arts’ grounds. Tickets are $5.

Soroptimist International of Laguna Beach created the event to spotlight the hurdles that prevent girls in places like Malawi and Ethiopia from becoming educated. Around the world when girls receive education, cycles of poverty can be broken in just one generation. A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20% more as an adult, according to the World Bank.

Bending that noble pursuit into a theme — Educate Girls. Change the World — the second annual festival took as its inspiration Malala Yousafzai, of Pakistan, who was shot by the Taliban on Oct. 9, 2012, for boarding a bus to attend school. Laguna girls have the chance to tap into that global wellspring from the stories of nine other girls from developing nations, striving beyond circumstance and overcoming long odds to achieve their dreams in “Girl Rising.” The film will be shown continuously throughout the day in the Forum Theater.

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Healthy Girls Festival organizers, from left, Connie Burlin, Mary Schmidt, Maggie Hempen and Mary Sausen clown around with water-filled buckets and passports.  The event allows girls to “tour” the globe and experience their peers’ chores, like lugging water.

Healthy Girls Festival organizers, from left, Connie Burlin, Mary Schmidt, Maggie Hempen and Mary Sausen clown around with water-filled buckets and passports. The event allows girls to “tour” the globe and experience their peers’ chores, like lugging water.

A new event invites girls to travel the world virtually with a festival passport. They will visit seven stations around the grounds, sampling girl culture in places such as Guatemala, Ethiopia, Malawi and Liberia to obtain stamps in their passport and be eligible to enter a raffle. In order to exit the station and obtain a passport stamp, they must absorb something about the developing country, where girls encounter social, cultural and economic barriers to education, largely foreign concepts in the U.S. and in Laguna’s public schools, said Mary Sausen, president of the Soroptimist group.

The Unite for Girls Passport Tour was developed by the United Nations Foundation in partnership with New York’s Girl Up campaign, and the Girl Rising organization, both of which work to raise the awareness of girls in the U.S. about the plight of their peers in developing nations.

In an effort to nurture grass-roots activism in an era of social media, girls visiting the Guatemalan station are invited to sign advocacy cards and tweet their elected officials to support the federal Girls Count Act. The proposal is a pledge to press other countries to issue children birth certificates, particularly girls, allowing them to assert their rights to receive legal and social benefits. Such an action might provide local girls the opportunity to commit their first political act even before they are old enough to vote.

At the Liberian station, girls can read letters from native girls who currently participate in Girl Up-supported programs, revealing both their struggles, such as harassment and violence, as well as their dreams. Healthy Girl participants can jot a note back using a template letter provided.

Representatives from local Girl Up Clubs will also be on hand to describe how others can get more involved raising awareness and funds for UN programs that help the world’s hardest to reach young girls.

Beyond the passport stations, the festivals offers interactive art projects sponsored by LOCA, shopping at non-profit organizations’ booths, dancing, food trucks, cooking demonstrations, live music by local bands including the all girl band, Yours Truly, and Emcee Shaena Stabler on the outdoor stage.

More information is available at silagunabeach.org.

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