This Teen Is on a Mission to Help Homeless Women & Girls

Nadya, 17, started her own non-profit to bring essential hygiene products to women in her own community and beyond.

Courtesy of Nadya Okamoto

This story is part of our Choices Changemakers series, in which we spotlight teens doing amazing things in their schools and communities!

Two years ago, Nadya Okamoto's life changed completely. Her mother lost her job, and within a matter of weeks, the family couldn't afford their home. So Nadya, her mother, and her two younger sisters began "couch-surfing" in family friends' homes, but sometimes didn't know where they would be living next. Nadya recalls feeling "displaced" during this time. While her classmates were discussing luxuries, she was searching for a part-time job to help support her family, and her 10-minute ride to school had turned into a two-hour bus commute each way.

Nadya began feeling down on herself but then chose to take action. She started volunteering at a local homeless shelter to boost her spirits. Through conversations with homeless women, the Portland teen came to two realizations. "The first thing is, I discovered how privileged I was," says the 17-year-old. While legally homeless, she still had a supportive family and friends. Plus, her mother valued education and made sure that her daughters got to learn as much as they could.

Her second epiphany? "I realized that there was this untouched need and topic that the women were scared to talk about, but were also struggling with addressing. And that was menstruation." Nadya knew she needed to do something.

That's how Camions of Care was born. Camions of Care is a non-profit organization that delivers menstrual hygiene products to homeless women and girls in the Portland area, and beyond—to Guatemala, Salt Lake City, a Native American reservation in South Dakota, and more. By applying for grants and collecting donations, the organization is able to get the supplies and funds it needs to deliver an average of 100 care packages per week. 

Nadya points out that even though it's not often talked about, menstrual hygiene is of utmost importance. "People in America are afraid to say the word 'period.' Even girls in America are scared to talk to their parents about getting their period. But the reason we need to focus on it as a global community is because menstruation is now stopping girls from going to school." In some countries, when female students get their periods, they have to miss class and wind up falling behind with schoolwork. That's why Nadya is passionate about de-stigmatizing the taboo topic and getting hygiene products out to women who need them most.

For other teens who want to spark a change, Nadya offers this advice: "The most important and first step is to identify a problem you are passionate about, because doing this is a lot of work. Passion is going to drive you to keep on going and keep on striving to accomplish your mission."

To see more Changemakers helping the homeless, check out Isaac, who held a backpack drive, and Albemarle High School, which collected thousands of cans of food. Feeling inspired to help your own community? Try this month's Choices Challenge!