Harvard Student Makes the Homeless Period Her Focus
At age 16, Nadya Okamoto founded PERIOD in response to discovering that homeless women didn’t have adequate feminine products during their menstrual cycles.
Okamoto said one of the first moments when she decided she had to do something about this was when she was sitting at her bus stop one day during the spring of her freshman year in high school. A homeless woman she had been talking to on a regular basis came up to her to share a new strategy she had been using to manage her period. “She demonstrated how she could pull off a part of the cardboard she was sitting on, take off the outer surfaces, and then rub the ridged inner part between her hands and use that as a menstrual pad,” Okamoto explained.
“I think that what struck me the most is realizing the real experience of using trash found on the ground or in recycling bins outside of businesses, to take care of something as natural as menstruation. Experiences and encounters like this are what both gave me a passion for the cause of fighting period poverty, and also the privilege check that I needed to realize how fortunate I have been and how much I can give back.”
After hearing how periods are one of the biggest challenges for homeless women, she realized how strongly she believed that menstrual hygiene is a right, not a privilege. This summer, she made the decision to put her studies at Harvard on hold to focus on her nonprofit organization, PERIOD, full time to raise awareness about the barriers people confront in trying to access menstrual hygiene products.
Last week, Marriott announced Okamoto as one of four grant recipients of the #LoveTravels Beyond Barriers Social Innovation Investment – inclusive of a $50,000 grant for their organization and a year of summits and mentorship opportunities from Marriott executives. Launched in 2014, #LoveTravels seeks to send a “powerful message of acceptance” through the telling of stories of diverse travelers.
“As a hospitality company, it is our responsibility – and not one that we take lightly – to provide safe and welcoming spaces for our guests and associates every day to make a positive impact on diverse communities,” said Cherilyn Williams, Director, Global Portfolio Marketing at Marriott International.
Okamoto plans to use the Marriott grant funds to facilitate and better support PERIOD’s chapters around the country and world. “We are empowering young leaders through our campus chapter network to serve others in need, and also catalyze social and systemic change towards equitable access to menstrual hygiene.”
At 20 years old and on a leave of absence from college, she understands the responsibility she has undertaken and her need to evolve in business. “I realize how much I have left to learn in how to be a leader, how to lead an organization, and now, how to be a published author. I really believe in the power of mentorship, and I couldn’t have gotten this far without it.”
In terms of the network that Marriott international is able to provide her with, she said, “I am super excited to be able to learn from role models who are more experienced and can help coach me through both growing my organization, and getting ready for my first book to come out on October 16.”
The Marriott International #LoveTravels Beyond Barriers program will provide $500,000 in grants to groups and individuals who are actively breaking down barriers. In addition to the first four grant recipients, the remaining $300,000 will be distributed via a merit competition that will award 30 individuals with $10,000 to accelerate their vision for how to advance inclusion, equality, peace and human rights through travel.
To learn more about the grant opportunity or how to enter, visit: MarriottLoveTravelsContest.com