Nadya Okamoto is a 17-year-old high school senior at Catlin Gabel. She moved from NYC to Portland when she was nine, with her mother and two younger sisters, after her parents divorce. Like many teenagers her age, right now Nadya is knee deep in college applications and stressing over midterm exams. But along with being the captain of her school's dance team, leading Mock Trial, being an active member of the Asian Pride Club and maintaining a high GPA, Nadya is also the founder and executive director of her own nonprofit, Camions of Care.
Camions of Care is dedicated to addressing and destigmatizing the natural needs of women by educating and providing feminine hygiene products to impoverished women around the globe. The successful nonprofit was spawned directly from Nadya's own experiences couch-surfing at friends houses after her mother lost her job and could no longer afford their apartment. The organization has received a number of grants and donations, including winning a national grant from the ANNPower Vital Voices Initiative—an organization dedicated to empowering young women around the globe to be leaders of progress in their communities.
I met Nadya at the Sentinel Hotel, downtown, where she was one of four panelists speaking at "In Her Shoes," an Empowerment Breakfast hosted by Dress For Success, a global nonprofit that provides supportive networks for disadvantaged women to thrive in the workforce. Nadya was the keynote speaker at the event. Despite being the youngest presenter, she delivered a quality speech resembling a professional public speaker twice her age; it was honest, articulate and executed with eloquence. Nadya later revealed to me that she had written the speech just the night before. After the breakfast Nadya had to quickly leave for school.
While watching her scramble to figure out how she was going to drive herself to first period after absentmindedly locking her keys in her car, I was reminded that despite everything, Nadya is still just a normal teenager. (Her mom ended up going home to grab a spare key.)
At noon I reunited with Nadya at Catlin Gabel, where she was having a meeting with her Camions of Care group. At the meeting I was introduced to two other members of the student-run organization. Evelyne Maquelin, the web and marketing director and Vincent Forand, the operations director. Like Nadya, they too are actively involved in community outreach and possessed a maturity and work ethic way beyond their years. The meeting was very professional, the three discussed expanding partnerships, managing over 1500 volunteers, logistics for sending care packages to their multiple chapters including one in Nairobi, Kenya, and ways to make the website more user friendly. After the meeting the threesome sat at a shady table outdoors to have lunch, where conversation hovered around college applications and the latest buzz surrounding classmates.
We parted ways after the lunch bell rang. In passing Nadya mentioned feeling anxious for the quiz in her next class which she didn't have time to study for because she was writing her keynote speech.
Six hours of shadowing Nadya, and I was left both considerably exhausted and quite in awe of this exceptional young lady dedicated to changing the world, one period at a time.