In 2002, Monika Carey started the DIVA program to empower girls and women ages 9 to 25 with modules such as Physical and Sexual Health, Character Education, and Behavior Modification. DIVA has now become the Family Over Everything, which keeps all the same programs as DIVA, but allows the program to be offered to boys and young men. Family Over Everything also has the ‘Write Yourself Free’ module that allows youth and young adults who have been affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, or abuse of any type to express their thoughts through poetry, short stories, and monologues.
Monika is a symbol of bravery and inspiration for the participants of her organization. She moved to Columbia in 1999 to escape a situation of domestic violence, not knowing anyone when she arrived. By 2005, she had a successful non-profit and lots of friends and colleagues. She then revealed the circumstances of her past to the community. Having survived an abusive situation that placed her in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, and now being a successful advocate for youth empowerment, Monika is a shining star in our books.
“Reproduction is a natural thing. The sooner we talk about it in a way that doesn’t make it feel “ucky,” the better off we’ll be. We should begin to talk about it in a less fearful manner, in a way that de-stigmatizes it, but still leaves value. I am a firm believer in abstinence, but I’m also a firm believer that not everyone can be abstinent or wants to be abstinent.”
Her best advice for those who want to advocate for sexual health is to be genuine. Oftentimes it is hard for us to remain non-judgmental about people, but if we can admit that we don’t fully understand something, that’s the first step in a process of growth.
Monika is a wonderful Ambassador for Tell Them. Her work with the younger generations is all about empowering them to make their own decisions based on reliable information about their health. And while many of the people whose lives she touches look up to her as a role model, Monika says that many of the individuals she works with inspire her as well.
“I like doing what I’m doing now. I spent my first 10 or 15 years of my career being on the frontlines, and now being an Ambassador allows me to be on the back end. I can be supportive and work with young people.”