Name: Nadya Okamoto
Location: Portland, Oregon but about to head to Cambridge, Massachusetts this fall to attend Harvard
Occupation: Student and Founder and Executive Director of Camions of Care
Nadya Okamoto became the founder of a start-up company before she was old enough to legally vote. At 16, 7 years after her parents divorced and her family experienced legal homelessness, she was personally exposed to the need for feminine hygiene products for homeless women, and became an advocate for underserved women by beginning Camions of Care.
“I was inspired after hearing about the need for menstrual hygiene so often from homeless women that I met at shelters and bus stops I visited around the Portland area,” Nadya explains. “And after learning that it was the number one reason why girls miss school globally and the single symbolic transition into womanhood that caused girls to drop out of school, get married, or undergo female genital mutilation. I really wanted dependability and mobility to be core components of the identity of the organization because it was important to me that the nonprofit organizations that we partnered with to serve women and girls in need could depend on us to replenish their stock of feminine hygiene products no matter where they were located.”
Speaking frankly, Nadya explains about how removing the stigma surrounding menstruation must be a limitless endeavor in order to better provide health-related products and services to disadvantaged populations of women globally.
“I hope that Camions of Care can play a part in de-stigmatizing menstruation so it isn’t something that gives women and girls a reason to feel less confident or less capable,” she says. “I also hope that through our service work in making menstrual hygiene more accessible to women and girls both domestically and globally, it won’t be a hindrance to global development and girls can stay in school and continue participating in educational and employment opportunities.”
This might be a seemingly unattainable goal, but Nadya has never let difficulty stand in her way. From a young age, she learned to move beyond tough times and triumph in spite of circumstances.
“During my family’s time of “transition” when we were legally homeless, I found myself in a physically abusive relationship with someone who was a bit older than me, and it was a significant blow to my confidence and feelings of self-worth,” she reflects. “What helped build my resilience was connecting with homeless women who were in much worst living situations than I was, and realizing that I had the potential to make a difference and address a need that I continued to witness: the need for menstrual hygiene products.”
After her own rough road, this capable student and persistent activist is about to contribute her wisdom and tenacity to Harvard University, where she will become a freshman in the fall. As she pursues her studies, she’s unwavering in her commitment and the organization she created.
“I know for sure that I want to devote my efforts to enacting sustainable social change focused on making sure that every human feels confident, dignified, and prepared to discover and reach their full potential,” Nadya emphasizes. “Menstrual hygiene very much aligns with this.”
When asked to pass on some advice to the next generation of young women who will go forth to be on the front lines of such issues as gender equality and equal representation, Nadya has this to say:
“Your voice matters, no matter where you come from or who you are. Amplify your voice about something you feel strongly about, and let yourself be heard. Collaborate with others and let yourself be inspired. Start early and engage with the world now!”
For her work with Camions of Care and being irrepressible in her personal quest for change, we think Nadya Okamoto is one Cool Girl!