As she began her high school career, Nadya Okamoto experienced more than starting at a new school—she and her family were in a time of transition that changed her views of the world, especially of women and menstruation.
In her conversations with other homeless women on the bus to and from school, Nadya realized many of them didn’t always have access to hygienic products during their menstrual cycles, and some were forced to use discarded brown paper bags. Nadya decided access to hygienic products shouldn’t be a privilege for women experiencing homelessness, but a right.
During high school, Nadya founded PERIOD, a global youth-run nonprofit. It aims to “provide and celebrate menstrual hygiene through advocacy, education and service” by distributing menstrual hygiene products around the world. Today, PERIOD is one of the world’s largest youth-run NGOs in women’s health.
“I feel like I am called to do this work,” Nadya says. “When I work on PERIOD it feels right—like I am living out my purpose, and that really matters to me.”
Nadya’s perseverance and long list of achievements were why she was selected as the winner of the top 2016 Most Valuable Student scholarship. She’s currently a sophomore at Harvard College, where she balances being a full-time student, running a nonprofit and writing a book.
“The book is going to act as a sort of manifesto for the Menstrual Movement, geared toward an audience of younger, potential activists,” Nadya says.
Being an Elks scholar helped Nadya realize her potential and gave her the time and resources to accomplish more in college.
“Receiving an MVS scholarship was an experience that pushed me to embrace my background, regardless of adversity, and be more confident in my ability to make changes as a young person,” Nadya says. “I was also able to spend more time on PERIOD because the Elks have supported my education at Harvard College.”
PERIOD mobilizes youth across the nation to be champions of PERIOD through a network of campus chapters. Fellow 2016 MVS Finalist Preeti Iyer, a sophomore at Princeton University, is a PERIOD Regional Director alongside 2015 MVS Finalist Gaby Haire, a junior at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Gaby read about Nadya and the PERIOD movement on the Elks National Foundation’s website. When she saw an opening for regional director, she applied on a whim.
“I’m passionate about PERIOD’s mission, and I felt that creating a chapter in my community was necessary to accomplish everything PERIOD is working toward in becoming a national organization,” Gaby says.
Gaby likes keeping up with what Elks scholars are doing because their measurement of success is the change they bring to their communities and the world.
“I am humbled to be a part of this group and use my interactions with other Elks scholars to push me to be the best version of myself,” Gaby says.
Nadya and Gaby met at PERIOD’s first conference—PERIODCon—the world’s first youth activism conference on menstruation. It was an opportunity to bring the PERIOD network together to meet one another and discuss their goals. After spending time with the team after the conference, Nadya invited Gaby to visit PERIOD’s headquarters in Portland for the annual staff retreat. Gaby looks forward to continuing her work with Nadya and PERIOD.
“I am proud to be a part of this movement and I admire all that Nadya has done,” Gaby says.
For 2017-18, the Elks National Foundation allocated $2.89 million to fund the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, which includes 500 four-year scholarships ranging from $4,000 to $50,000. For more information about the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, including eligibility and deadlines, visit enf.elks.org/MVS.