This is Nadya Okamoto, founder of Camions of Care.
Okamoto grew up in New York City, and experienced homelessness firsthand when she was a sophomore in high school. Her mother lost her job, and for seven months, their family constantly moved around Portland, Oregon.
It was during this time Okamoto realized that feminine hygiene should not be a luxury, but a health necessity. Okamoto founded the non-profit Camions of Care in 2014 to help distribute free tampons and pads to homeless women. Now, Okamoto is a freshman at Harvard University, and her organization has over forty chapters at high schools and colleges across the country.
After what she calls her “time of transition”, Okamoto talked to homeless women about their daily lives, and the challenges they face to survive. She noticed that periods seemed to be a ‘forbidden topic’, and that homeless shelters do not usually provide feminine hygiene products.
“I had collected an anthology of stories of women using toilet paper, stollen pillowcases, and most commonly brown paper grocery bags, to maintain their periods. I wrote down quotes from the women of how scared they were to ask for menstrual hygiene products because they were embarrassed of their periods, but also how poor menstrual hygiene caused them so much discomfort. I noted how nervous they seemed to chat with me about their periods as if it was a forbidden topic.”
Her concern sparked the idea of Camions of Care, and since 2014, Okamoto said the non-profit has addressed over 25,000 periods in 17 states and 9 countries. She hopes that in the near future, her organization will also extend to third world countries in need.
“On a global level, I learned that periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries. I also learned that a girl’s first period (menarche), in signifying the official transition from girlhood into womanhood, was the single event that often led to a girl’s dropping out of school, getting married at a very young age, being socially isolated, or worse, undergoing female genital mutilation.”
Nadya is currently nominated for L’Oreal Paris’s Women of Worth Awards.
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