My passion for menstrual care began during my family’s experience with homelessness. During this time, I gained both insight and inspiration through conversations with homeless women that I met. In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, when my family saved up enough money 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 menstrual products to homeless women and women-in-need on my way to school, with the help of an amazing and driven youth team of peers, is now an exponentially growing organization.
Camions of Care is now a global youth-run nonprofit that strives to manage menstrual care through advocacy, education, and service—through the global distribution of menstrual products and development of youth leadership through campus chapters. In the last year and a half, our network of 1,900 volunteers has distributed over 16,000 care packages of menstrual products to 38 nonprofit partners in 12 different states and 9 different countries, and has expanded our chapter network to 34 established chapters at university and high school campuses around the US. Each care package is worth under two dollars and provides enough for one menstrual cycle. These care packages contain 9 tampons, 4 maxi-pads, and 5 panty liners, providing all of the products a woman may need for her average five-day period.
Camions of Care strives to develop youth engagement through our campus chapters. We continue to expand our network of 34 campus chapters at universities and high schools around the United States. Our chapters (nationwide at various high school and university campuses) work to support Camions of Care through advocacy and education. Some of our larger Tier 3 chapters also distribute menstrual products to their own local partners. Every weekend, a volunteer team travels along our designated routes making deliveries to some of our (38+) nonprofit partner organizations and directly to homeless women-in-need.
In addition to the menstrual products that Camions of Care purchases, we also obtain donations from local businesses, community centers, and nonprofit organizations. These menstrual products are then directly distributed or put together into care packages through our community care packaging events.
Camions of Care helps women feel dignified and clean during their periods by giving them menstrual products. The women that we serve are low income or homeless, and generally would not spend the little money they have on menstrual care. Our services thereby give these women the materials to take care of their natural needs, which they otherwise would lack easy access to. Psychologically, having control over one’s own body is a step towards self-confidence and feeling in control of one’s life. This ability to care for immediate needs is an early step in helping women get off the street or to bounce back from a difficult situation. Additionally, most reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual care. By distributing menstrual products, we help women stay healthier.
In the fall of 2015, Diva International established an ongoing partnership with Camions of Care. However, while menstrual cups may seem like a great solution for some women-in-need, limited access to clean water and health care services pose a serious health concern as the cup cannot be properly cleaned. As such, Camions of Care has partnered with Dress for Success Oregon’s HOPE program to distribute the DivaCup to women recently released from prison and who are living in transitional housing. To date, Diva has donated over 100 cups, and I am excited to see how this partnership will develop in the months and years to come!
Camions of Care is always striving to find sustainable solutions and we are continuing our efforts of securing reusable products like menstrual cups and fabric pads that provide more long term solutions. Camions of Care works to empower women and youth, period.
Nadya Okamoto is an 18-year-old from Portland, 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 care. 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.