Cecille "Ces" Villa
The Roman Catholic Church is the most influential group in Philippine Society. Approximately 80% of the Philippine population is Roman Catholic. Sexual education in the school curriculum is a continuous debate, sparked by the objections of the Catholic Church. Adolescents in the Philippines have general ideas about their body and how it works, but they are not very knowledgeable about fertility. Young people engage in sexual activity, but they do not commonly protect themselves. In general, parents are not prepared to have reproductive health and family planning discussions with their children. Rather than gaining accurate information in school or at home, children are forced to learn about sex from their peers and search on the internet for answers. Cecille De Castro-Villa has made it her life’s mission to help guide youth to find their own identities and empower them to help themselves and the people around them.
Cecille’s passion for leadership and working with others began as a child. She was raised in a Protestant Christian home with 2 sisters and 4 brothers, where she was given just enough freedom to pursue her interests. Cecille recalls, “Adolescence was the time when I discovered who I am. I was able to develop my interpersonal skills, communication skills and the beginning of my leadership skills.”
Cecille was part of an energetic and creative young people’s group in her local church, called “Inner Light”. During her teen years she was active in church outreach. She was given the space to participate and make a difference. She recalls, “Many of my values about life and relationships were formed during this time.”
Her interest in human relationships expanded as she earned her degree in Sociology at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. It was there that she was introduced to the realities of the world and the importance of social development.
After graduating from college, Cecille’s first job was with Man and the Biosphere (MAB), an environmental program of UNESCO, where she worked for three years. MAB was involved with programs on the environment and how individuals, groups and societies impact the environment. After working with MAB, she joined the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines where she worked for a year. During that time, she was asked to apply to the Population Center Foundation (PCF), where she worked for 13 years. It was at PCF that she met Mrs. Aurora Go, who invited her to join the Foundation for Adolescent Development (FAD).
Cecille currently serves as the Executive Director of FAD, leading a dedicated team of project officers who reach out to youth across the Philippines. Cecille and her staff focus on youth aged 15-24 and their health and sexuality needs by providing proper guidance for their lifestyle concerns and overall well-being. The four major issues and concerns that FAD and Cecille focus on are self-esteem, boy-girl relationships, parent-child relationships and sexuality.
FAD was created in 1985 out of the Manila Center for Young Adults (MCYA), a multi-service youth center, by the Philippine Center for Population and Development. The MCYA was a place where teenagers could openly discuss issues and problems about growing up, relationships and sexuality, while playing games and meeting friends. After operating as a youth center for 3 years, MCYA became oriented more toward education and value formation, focusing on sexuality as a vital concern in the development stage of adolescence, and was transformed into the Foundation for Adolescent Development.*
Cecille’s dedication to development and reproductive health caught the attention of the LDM program, and in 2002 LDM supported Cecille to attend a one month intensive education program at the Asian Institute of Management. From her involvement with LDM, she had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with other LDM Fellows to create an NGO called LeadNET, formed to develop young reproductive health leaders in the Philippines. Cecille was appointed Vice President. The idea of LeadNET was strong, yet it had problems with sustainability because the members were all regularly employed in their respective organizations. Although it currently sits dormant, Cecille has hope, “It’s actually my wish to see LeadNET soar”.
In addition to seeing LeadNET reach its potential as an organization, Cecille hopes to provide youth consultancy in different parts of the country and all over Asia by increasing her outreach. “I think one major reason why I stayed on with the adolescents as a youth group is that I saw that there are so many problems and issues in this area that need to be addressed. I want to provide consultancy to the youth not only in Manila, but in different areas inside and outside of the country as well”.
Cecille also hopes to start a strong parenting program where she can take her skills and help teach parents the tools they need to communicate with their children about reproductive health and sexuality. “My personal vision is to engage other sectors in adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH), such as the parents. We have some experience on ‘parenting the adolescents’, we have a user-friendly manual on this and we have a good share of experiences in running sessions among parents.”
Cecille continues to strive toward her goals, by both gaining first-hand experience and furthering her education. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Development Management at the Asian Institute of Management in the Philippines.
With Cecille’s dedication and wealth of experience in the advocacy of adolescent development, youth have a person and a safe place to turn to when they have questions or concerns about their development, reproductive health, and sexuality. In a country where openly discussing sex and family planning is scarce, the positive impact that Cecille brings to these youth is extraordinary.
-In Collaboration by Lhot Jiz de Ortega and Elisa Manheim