Harvard Freshman Nadya Okamoto Is at the Forefront of Menstrual Rights
Harvard Freshman Nadya Okamoto Is at the Forefront of Menstrual Rights

Harvard Freshman Nadya Okamoto Is at the Forefront of Menstrual Rights

After hearing the plight of homeless women, Okamoto started Camions of Care, a non-profit that has expanded far beyond its original purpose.
February 16, 2017
7 mins read

The inspiration for Nadya Okamoto’s national non-profit, “Camions of Care,” came from one of the hardest times in her life. In the spring of her freshman year of high school, Okamoto and her family were homeless, couch surfing with their closest friends and even spending the night in a homeless shelter. Each morning and night, Okamoto would board a bus and journey across Portland, Oregon, for two hours to get to and from school.

However, Okamoto transformed the challenges she was facing into an opportunity to connect with the homeless women on her commute. She began filling page after page of her journal with an anthology about what she noticed was one of the biggest struggles for the community of homeless women—periods.

From this experience, Okamoto decided to take action. She created Camions of Care, a non-profit organization that strives to celebrate menstrual hygiene through advocacy, fundraising and the distribution of feminine hygiene products to women in need.

Harvard Freshman Nadya Okamoto Is at the Forefront of Menstrual Rights
Okamoto, a freshman at Harvard

“I started [Camions of Care] when my family was getting out of rough financial organization, for fun and on the side. We started with delivering twenty products a week, and now we are delivering three thousand a month. I mean, the growth has been tremendous. We are growing more than exponentially,” says Okamoto.

In the last two years, the organization has addressed over seventy-three thousand periods through forty-three nonprofit partners in twenty-seven states and fourteen countries, and has 65 campus chapter at universities and high schools around the United States. Already, Okamoto has made an incredible impact on the discussion of menstrual rights worldwide, and she is only getting started.

Finding Balance

Nadya Okamoto does a lot. In her first year of college at Harvard, she is still running Camions of Care. She is also running a new media platform for shareable posts that encourage action. Millennialsinaction.org already has over two hundred pieces by people sharing political opinions and views, and aims to fight the static Facebook activism that often ends without any significant action taken.

If that wasn’t enough, Okamoto is also on a competitive hip-hop team, an R&B acapella group, is taking eight politics electives and has just signed with a literary agent to write a book about the menstrual movement. Okamoto says, “Balancing everything is demanding. But these are all things I love to do, and I love the people I’m doing them with.”

Amid all her activities and responsibilities, Okamoto still finds time to appreciate those who are close to her. When asked who inspired her, Okamoto responded genuinely, “My best friend. He really pushes me to care about other people, and to care about them in the most genuine way. He makes me a better person, makes me more thankful and teaches me a lot about balance. He knows that I like to push myself, but he pushes me to take time off and prioritize personal relationships and do things that are fun so that I can be my best self when it comes to work. He makes me believe in myself.”

How to Move Forward

When Okamoto found that the role of Camions of Care was becoming larger than her original goal of solely delivering supplies, she decided that she needed to make some big changes in branding. The original (and current) name of the company, Camions of Care, was made up by Okamoto when she, “looked up the word for truck synonyms” and found camión (Spanish for truck). She added an “s” and made it a national brand.

Now, Okamoto says that the organization has “morphed into something bigger than that. It became clear that what we were doing was so much bigger than driving around and delivering supplies. We are really an advocacy organization that wants to get people talking. So, March 8, we are launching a new name, brand and digital platform for Camions of Care, called ‘Period.’” Just in time for National Women’s Day.

Okamoto is also intensifying the organization’s focus on policy, which will include the launch of a comprehensive toolkit on communication materials, and six pieces of legislation to push. She says, “Now we have a president who has made comments about how women on their period are less capable. We are in a whole new field. There has been a lot of pushback already. I talked to NPR a few months ago and [mentioned] how I believed in tax money supporting menstrual rights.

“I got calls after that where people would blatantly tell me that periods kept women in their place. It’s a learning experience every day. [Trump’s] administration is claiming they believe in gender equality, and honestly, I think if you say that, you believe in access to menstrual care. I’m just going to keep fighting for it, because it’s a human right.”

Creating Her Team

Okamoto is all about teamwork. She says, “You can’t do it alone. You have to build a team. You have to acknowledge your weaknesses, so that you find people who complement your skill set and delegate tasks. “Sometimes people think they can do it all, but you’ll be so much stronger if you work together. Start a nonprofit where services don’t exist already. If you really care about the issue, look for someone who is already doing it and work together.”

So, how exactly does Okamoto keep everything at Camions of Care running smoothly? From the start, the organization has been totally youth-run. As they begin to open up offices, this youth power will continue to back the organization. Okamoto explained her dedication to keeping Camions of Care youth-run, saying, “I’m eighteen and I’m a huge believer in youth leadership and youth empowerment. In the business of social change for a more positive and inclusive world, the future leaders of the world should have a say in that. We should own that, get started early and understand the context that we live in.

“To be totally candid, I went through being in an abusive relationship and have experienced domestic abuse, and I understood what it was like to feel voiceless and not have confidence in my potential. It was powerful for me to realize through advocacy work that I had a voice, and I can make a difference. It is important for me to share that with everyone else. When we all work together, with tremendous young energy, we produce amazing work.”

Isabella Waldron, Scripps College

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