Hi there! I’m Nadya, an 18-year-old living in Oregon with my mom and my two younger sisters (and a beta fish). I also consider myself a loud and proud advocate and leader of the menstrual movement. In this post, I am going to talk a little bit about my story of how I became introduced to and passionate about periods.
Three 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.
At that time, I became fascinated with other people’s hardships — probably to raise my own spirits, to distract myself, and to better understand what was going on in my own life — and I felt that I could relate in a way because at that same time, I found myself in an abusive relationship and without a place I could call home. During countless hours navigating my way to school or in staying at a shelter, I conversed with homeless women I met. I asked them what they found most challenging about their situation, and if there was anything I could do to help.
Their responses surprised me because until then I had never thought about menstrual hygiene as an issue. I kept a journal, and wrote down stories of using stolen pillowcases, toilet paper, and recycled brown grocery bags to maintain their periods. I became fascinated and angered by this unaddressed natural need, noticing how women’s shoulders rose in nervousness when I asked them questions about it, whispering when they said the word “period,” looking around nervously as if they had something to hide.
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. Thus, there was this never-ending cycle of organizations not prioritizing menstrual hygiene and women not feeling confident to advocate for their natural needs, leaving periods completely unaddressed. I also 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 on a monthly basis, why was it such a hushed topic?! However, even though I felt myself being an advocate for periods, I still remembered the immense amount of terror that I felt when I was twelve-years-old and found blood lining my underwear — I remember screaming, crying, and convincing myself that I was dying.
These stories, coming from women who were in much worse living situations than I, tore down whatever close-minded and pessimistic perspective I had until that point. I thought about how lucky I was to have been given The DivaCup by my mother when I was twelve-years-old and angry about how much waste was being produced with all the packaging of the feminine hygiene products I was using on my period. I thought about how lucky I was to have access to clean bathrooms so that I could use the product, and how much the product helped my family save as we scrimped to save up money.
Suddenly I found myself waking up each morning with excitement, optimistic about the smallest things in my life at the time. I looked at my life with immense gratitude — grateful for the supportive network of family and friends we had to take us in when we couldn’t afford our home, for the educational opportunities that I had, and most of all to have my mom in my life as she always inspires me with her intelligence, resourcefulness and strength.
I knew at that time in my life, I had the power and drive to make positive change. I began dreaming of different ways of addressing the need for menstrual hygiene, and when my family saved enough for us to move back into our home, in the summer of my sophomore year, I did something about it.
In the spring of my freshman year of high school, when my family saved up enough for us to move back into our two-bedroom apartment in Portland, I founded Camions of Care. What started as a personal project to use savings to buy and hand out feminine hygiene products on my way to school, with the help of an amazing and driven youth team of peers, is now an exponentially growing organization.
To read more about Camions of Care and how The DivaCup has partnered with this incredible youth-driven organization, click here!
Nadya Okamoto is an 18-year-old from Oregon. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Camions of Care–a global nonprofit organization that strives to address the natural needs of women through advocacy, education, and service. Nadya founded Camions of Care after her family experienced a degree of homelessness, during which she discovered the unaddressed need of menstrual hygiene. Nadya wants people to understand that everyone deserves to have their natural needs met so they feel ready to achieve their full potential. She is also the Youth Director of Social Venture Partners Youth, is on the board of the Women’s Foundation of Oregon PLAN International USA, and is involved in many other school activities around law practice, politics, and gender equality.