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This Teen Is Bringing Menstrual Products To Homeless Women Around The World

Nadya Okamoto was 15 years previous when her mom misplaced her job and her household turned legally homeless.

In an on the spot, Okamoto’s life turned nights couch-surfing with shut buddies and dwelling out of suitcases. She spent 4 hours a day commuting to and from the unique personal faculty she attended on scholarship. A yr later, at 16, Okamoto discovered herself sitting in a women’s shelter, hiding the bruises an abusive associate had left on her physique. 

“I was in an abusive relationship with a guy who was a little bit older than me and I hadn’t told my mom,” Okamoto informed The Huffington Post. “It was right after we had gotten our apartment back, which I knew my mom worked so hard to make happen for us. But it was that experience of being at the women’s shelter alone, and hearing the stories of women who were in much worse situations than I was ― I had a complete privilege check.” 

That second led the excessive schooler to create Camions of Care, a youth-led non-profit group that distributes menstrual merchandise to women and women in want. Okamoto stated her inspiration to create Camions of Care got here from the conversations she had with homeless women in shelters, and through these 4 hours of bus rides every day to and from faculty. 

Today, the 18-year-old attends Harvard University and efficiently runs Camions of Care as a worldwide operation. She even gave a TEDx Youth talk in January 2016. This month, Okamoto was additionally named a L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Honoree for the sweetness firm’s 2016 Women of Worth celebration

We’re simply so excited that an enormous company like L’Oréal was taking discover of what actually began with us assembly across the lunch desk and planning in highschool,” Okamoto stated. “Now we will say we run a worldwide operation with 40 non-profit companions, in 23 states, 13 nations and on 60 campus chapters at universities and excessive faculties throughout the U.S.” 

The Huffington Post spoke with Okamoto about Camions of Care, the significance of menstrual hygiene for all women and why we have to battle the stigma surrounding durations. 

How does the disgrace and stigma surrounding durations influence women’s entry to menstrual merchandise?

What withholds women and women from acquiring the precise menstrual merchandise that they want is the shortage of open dialog round it. It merely comes right down to the truth that a variety of [women] don’t really feel snug asking if these merchandise can be found.

Numerous non-profits gained’t get sure merchandise on account of a scarcity of funds or lack of displayed want. That lack of displayed want is a very key a part of why I’m doing this. Non-profits have been considering that menstrual merchandise weren’t a necessity as a result of individuals weren’t asking, whereas women have been expressing to us that it was a terrific want. So, Camions of Care turned the center man between women and shelters. Now we will construct consciousness amongst non-profits, whereas additionally empowering women to really feel extra assured and converse up about their wants relating to menstrual hygiene.

Watch Okamoto’s L’Oréal Paris Women Of Worth video under. 

Out of all the conversations you’ve had with homeless women ― throughout your time in shelters and commuting to and from faculty ― is there one which was notably memorable?

I feel the defining second that made me understand I used to be onto one thing was every week after I made a decision to start out the group. We went out and we gave out care packages, and one of many first ones I handed out was a lady who was sitting on the road ready for morning providers and she or he broke into tears. She was so shocked that somebody was there to succeed in out to her and provides her the merchandise that she all the time wished for.

I learn on Camions of Care that from a younger age you began utilizing menstrual cups. You wrote that should you hadn’t used a menstrual cup when you have been homeless you’d’ve wanted menstrual merchandise like some other homeless lady ― and also you wouldn’t have been capable of afford them. What was that realization like for you?

That realization was a complete privilege examine. I struggled with self-harm, I wasn’t actually positive how I might assist my household, I used to be actually confused. So going from that state of feeling victimized and powerless after which all of a sudden realizing that I had a whole lot of privilege. I’ve by no means even needed to fear about one thing like menstrual hygiene. It made me understand that if I assumed I used to be unprivileged and but I by no means needed to fear about this ― then I have to do one thing about this.

Brian Ach by way of Getty Images

Okamoto speaks on stage on the L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth Celebration on Nov. 16, 2016. 

How did your expertise with homelessness assist you perceive the wants of different homeless women?

I feel that when individuals know that my household knew what it felt wish to not have a house, individuals routinely assume that I used to be impressed to start out this as a result of I might relate to the women that I talked to. But I truly assume in actuality it was the precise reverse of that. It was this realization of privilege.

I struggled with melancholy and self-harm as a result of I felt unvoiced on the age of 15 or 16. Being in that pessimistic mindset, however then listening to these tales of women who have been in a lot worse dwelling conditions and realizing, “Wow, I’ve quite a bit to be pleased about.” I couldn’t even fathom being my age and going by way of what these women went by means of. The women at these homeless shelters informed me tales of coping with drug abuse or not even going to highschool. Meanwhile, I used to be going to probably the most costly personal faculties on scholarship. At the identical time, I might relate to them as a result of I knew what it was wish to not have the identical assets because the individuals round you. 

There have been parts that I might join with many of those women on. But general I feel what pushed me to truly take motion wasn’t the truth that I might relate to them ― it was the truth that I couldn’t relate to them, but I had been naive sufficient to assume that I might.

What do you hope the longer term appears like for Camions of Care?

We simply need to continue to grow. We’re launching our coverage program hopefully within the subsequent couple of months, which features a complete software package with every part from communication supplies to speaking factors to drafted laws to the actionable steps. We’re additionally re-branding and altering our identify, and that may in all probability occur in early 2017. Meanwhile, we’re simply pushing our vacation marketing campaign to boost funds so we will proceed rising our providers and proceed rising our chapter community. By the top of this educational yr, we hope to have lively chapters in all 50 states of the U.S. We’re simply going to maintain striving in the direction of that. 

Head over to Camions of Care to study extra concerning the group. To donate or study how one can assist, head here.

L’Oréal Paris offers every Women of Worth Honoree nationwide recognition via networking alternatives, advertising help, a platform to inform her story and $10,000 to help her charitable trigger. Head here to learn the 2016 Women of Worth Honorees’ tales.

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