Editor’s Note We recently had the opportunity to meet 17-year old Nadya Okamoto, who founded the Camions of Care, a 501c3 nonprofit in Portland, Oregon. In the past year Camions of Care team members have distributed more than 6,000 care packages of feminine hygiene products through 25 nonprofit partners. Here is the story in Nadya’s words to a sold out crowd at the Elevating Impact Summit at Portland State University in February 2016.
Two and a half years ago, in the spring of my freshman year of high school, my mother lost her job and within a few weeks we could no longer afford to live in our two bedroom apartment. We had no choice but to move out and begin what I call our time of transition–several months of couch-surfing with our closest friends, who have since become family. My commute to school went from ten minutes to over two hours with two bus changes. I was constantly worried about my family’s financial situation. I questioned if we could afford food, and wondered how much longer I would have to fill in the bubble marked “no permanent address” on forms.
During countless hours sitting at the bus stop in Old Town Portland, within a two-block radius of six different homeless shelters and services, and also when riding the bus or sharing an awning to escape the Portland rain, I conversed with homeless women I met. I also began singing, serving food, and washing dishes at a local morning hospitality service at a downtown church. I asked the women I met what they found most challenging about their situation, and if there was anything I could do to help.
Their responses surprised me — I had never heard about the issue of hygiene, specifically menstrual hygiene. I kept a journal, and wrote down stories of using stolen pillowcases, toilet paper, and recycled brown grocery bags to maintain their periods.
I began talking to different nonprofit organizations, and found that none of the organizations I spoke to openly supported menstruation, whether due to a lack of funds or a lack of displayed need, because women were afraid to come forward and declare that they needed the products. When they did have the supplies, I heard that the products weren’t publicized or displayed because organizations were respecting the privacy of women. I found it confusing that so many people were scared to talk about periods. After all, if basically every woman experiences menstruation for an average of 40 years of her life, why was it such a hushed topic?! Worldwide, according to Femme International, menstruation is the number one reason that girls in developing countries miss school, and 70% or reproductive diseases in India are a direct result of poor menstrual health.
I began to feel that it was my obligation to utilize my blessings to stand up for the women I met, and all women who feel silenced from speaking out for their own natural needs. I vowed to fully invest my work, time, and resources to become a changemaker and help the community of women I had connected with whose basic medical needs were being nonchalantly ignored.
When my family saved enough for us to move back into our home, I began dreaming of different ways of addressing the need for menstrual hygiene. I applied to different programs and grants. In the summer of my sophomore year, I founded Camions of Care. Within the last year, Camions of Care has become a 501c3 youth-run nonprofit organization that strives to manage menstrual hygiene through advocacy, education, and service—through global distribution of feminine hygiene products and development of youth leadership through campus chapters.
In the last eleven months, our network of 1,300 volunteers have distributed over 6,000 care packages of feminine hygiene products to 25 nonprofit partners in five different states and three different countries, and is expanding our chapter network from 18 established at university and high school campuses around the US.
As a youth-run and volunteer-run nonprofit, we strive for maximum impact. For every $2 donated, one more woman is provided with everything she needs for an entire menstrual cycle, and for every $100, we can establish a distributing campus chapter in a new state. Every contribution makes a difference and we hope you join us in our fight against the stigma surrounding menstruation, and our journey to insure that every woman has the right and resources to feel confident, dignified, and prepared to discover and reach their full potential.