Nadya Okamoto is an incredibly strong, passionate advocate for her cause. At only 17 years old, the fact that she has been able to cultivate such an incredible following around her passion is awe-inspiring, and speaking with her is an amazing experience in-and-of itself. Her creation is Camions of Care, which advocates for women’s rights and natural needs by distributing feminine hygiene products to underprivileged women. Nadya officially started the program December 1, 2014, but the idea had been brewing since her freshman year of high school, which was nearly three years ago.
During that time Nadya had a brief experience with homelessness and spent up to four hours a day on public transportation, commuting in Portland. She is a naturally outgoing, curious person, and she took the opportunity to speak with other homeless women. She said that the conversations often led to Nadya asking them “What is the hardest thing you are experiencing?” Women continually had the same response: issues surrounding menstruation. They shared stories of the negative health effects that surrounded their periods, and experiences going without basic necessities that most women take for granted.
Nadya was shocked at the experiences these women had to endure, especially because so many women don’t give a second thought to their menstrual cycles. She began using her own money to buy feminine hygiene products and deliver them in her free time to women in Portland, fueled by a passion to eradicate this problem. The emotional reactions of the women she was helping inspired her to try to grow her support so that she could help even more women, and Camions of Care was born.
She set out to build a team to help her carry out her goal. Her top choice for a business partner was Vincent Forand, a fellow student with keen financial knowledge and a strong business sense. They weren't close, and Vincent was unfamiliar with the topic and slightly hesitant at first, but he quickly jumped on board. Vincent said that once they discussed the project he realized the need for feminine products in the community and the impact that Camions of Care could have. He was passionate about business, and Nadya was passionate about Camions of Care, and their combined efforts and dedication have formed the strong base of the cause.
The main way that Camions of Care helps women is by putting together care packages, which cost $2 each to put together and includes 9 tampons, 4 pads, 5 pantyliners and any other miscellaneous products that have been donated such as shampoo, baby wipes or soap. While their initial goal was to deliver 20 care packages a week, demand grew rapidly and they are now closer to distributing an average of 200 per week.
One powerful indicator of their success is that they now have a nationwide network of campus chapters with other students leading the local efforts. Nadya and her team provide chapters with a toolkit to run their network, which includes operational procedures and development and marketing plans. The campus chapters operate at three different levels: some just fundraise, some advocate, and some distribute.
The goal moving forward is to strengthen their chapter network and eventually have distribution teams all over the United States. Nadya, Vincent and some of the others on the Executive Board will be departing for college soon, and they want to be able to keep the cause going even after they tone down their involvement. The next step to fulfill that goal is to professionalize their organization and engage full-time staff to take over grant-writing and development. Right now Nadya works tirelessly writing grants and trying to get funding, so finding someone to fill that role would be ideal.
Camions of Care’s biggest struggle is fundraising. Applying for grants is helpful, but they need more consistent ways of collecting funds to help support their cause. Since they are youth and they work with mostly youth, it is often hard to cultivate donations. Right now their main form of marketing and communication is through social media, but in order to truly grow Camions of Care, their fundraising and marketing success will have to grow.
Camions of Care has made great strides in helping women with menstrual support, and they have no plans to slow down anytime soon. Nadya and Vincent have an incredible amount of passion and commitment for their cause, and their philanthropic spirit is infectious. We came away from our interview feeling inspired to help and in awe of the work that they have accomplished in such a short amount of time.
To learn more about Camions of Care, or to donate to the cause, visit their website at www.CamionsOfCare.org or follow them on social media.