Featured Storyteller

PHILIPPINES: Pursuing College at 35

YLLANG Montenegro
Posted May 30, 2017 from Philippines

After a decade as a migrant worker, Cecille returns home to the Philippines and uncovers her true calling.

“Painting is what my limbic brain tells me to do.

My name is Cecille Pauline S. Montenegro. I was born in Panay Island, Iloilo City and raised in Metro Manila. I am 35 years old and I live with my partner and two beautiful children. Anda is 12, and Jun is 10 years old.

This year I realized what my heart has wanted ever since I was a child—to speak up and fight for the rights of women and children through art.

When I was a child, I loved to draw. I collected cardboard and any materials I could find to draw on and explored all the vivid colors of life through paper and pencils.

I can still remember how excited I was each time my father brought home tracing paper and blue prints from his work as a civil engineer. There were always tons of papers everywhere in the small room we called home, the room my mom, a housewife, was forever tidying.

I come from a poor family. I, along with my four younger siblings and my parents, lived in my grandparent’s home, partitioned by dividers to make up tiny rooms.

I used to tell my parents that when I grew up I wanted to become an architect, a designer, or a painter. I wanted to build us our own house and paint it. Although my parents mostly encouraged my dreams and pursuits, they cautioned me that painters lived in their own realities and didn’t earn any money.

Heeding their warning I resolved never to become a painter, but I continued making dolls and doll clothes out of cardboard and paper.

When I started high school my father went abroad for work in order to make more money for our family. My mother was then able to save enough for us to rent our own one-room apartment. In my second year of high school, however, my father returned home. He had resolved never to work abroad again.

Even though we had no money for it then, I wanted to continue school. I asked my aunt to help support my studies, and in return, I would help her with the household chores. I also volunteered to tutor my two younger cousins in their schooling. With my aunt’s help, I graduated secondary school with honors.

After high school, I enrolled in college to study fine arts and major in interior design, but neither I nor my aunt could afford the tuition fees. My aunt suggested I work alongside my studies, so I worked at a local bar as a singer—the first job I could find as a 16-year-old girl. I made relatively good money, and no one recognized me with makeup on, but it was extremely exhausting and took a toll on me and my studies.

After a year and a half of this work, I leapt at an opportunity my neighbor offered me in the entertainment business in Japan. My goal was to go abroad and save money in order to continue my interior design studies. I reasoned that if I worked abroad I would earn a lot more than I could in the Philippines. While this was true, the flip side was that during my years working in Japan life couldn’t have been harder.

I drudged my way from Tokyo to Toyama as an entertainer. I was making a living to help support my family back in the Philippines, but there were moments my work almost drove me insane.

The language barrier was a problem, and though my visa and job title stated I was a singer, I had to dance onstage as well. I also had to serve customers when I was not onstage performing. This work was so difficult. I returned to the Philippines after only three months, but because my family needed the financial support and I was now in debt to my manager, I had to go back to this work in Japan.

I went back and forth like this, about five or six more times about every six months. I soon forgot my initial reason for working in Japan—to save money and continue college.

When I decided to return home for good in 2010 after nearly ten years in Japan, I was a single mother of two having left my abusive Japanese husband two years earlier.

Back home in the Philippines, I set up a beauty salon with the support of my partner. I worked hard at the salon as well as in the cosmetology classes I was taking. I still had the strong desire to draw and paint, but every time I passed an art shop, thoughts about my past and the fear that I was too old to start painting again prevented me from entering.

Four years after returning from Japan, however, inspired by my new life with my partner and my children, I started to paint again. I was nervous and excited at the same time because it had almost been a decade since I had last picked up a paintbrush.

My first painting was of a woman with women in her Philippine flag hair. I kept painting and haven’t stopped since.

I continue to paint on canvases and even walls; I have made murals locally and globally; I have also been featured in many different art exhibits, all focused on showcasing women’s art. I never knew that I was an art activist until I read about art activism and realized that all my artwork highlighted the empowerment of women and children.

Around the same time I started painting again I became involved with an organization called Batis AWARE (Association of Women in Action for Rights and Empowerment). Now I volunteer as its president.

We are a group of returned migrant Filipino women. Most of us are victims and survivors of human trafficking, slavery, and domestic violence. Our mission is to empower women and to advocate for our rights.

Last July, through Batis AWARE, I was invited back to Japan by KGU Kwansei Gakuin University and SALA Asian Shokudo restaurant to create an advocacy art project about migrants in Japan and to speak about our organization.

Cecille painting mural.

Advocacy Art: Cecille painting "Empowerment of All People" mural in Japan. Photo courtesy of Ms. Naoko Kuroda and Mr. Hibiki Fuse, SALA.

When I left Japan I never thought I would return. It was a thrilling and fascinating experience to go back to the country six years later as an advocate and artist rather than as a migrant worker in the entertainment business.

Now I want to return to school to formally develop my painting skills. I am currently in the process of enrolling in a fine arts painting program at University of the Philippines in Quezon City.

I know that what my parents told me about being a painter was not true. For me what is true is what is in my heart. Painting is what my limbic brain tells me to do. This is my passion, this is me—I am a painter and this is what I want me to be.


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Comments 35

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Sherna Alexander Benjamin
May 30, 2017
May 30, 2017

Dear Cecille Pauline,

Your story has inspired me to continue pushing towards my goals for academic advancement and professional development. Congratulations on volunteering as president for your organisation and using your voice and art to advocate for women and work towards preventing human trafficking.

Your paintings are beautiful, I looked forward to reading your journey and more about your work. Keep strong my sister and keep pushing forward. 

YLLANG Montenegro
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Dear Sherma,

Hi, thank you for appreciating as well as your words of encouragement, I finished all the 3 test, sadly I didnt passed the last talent test.  Yes, I was depressed but, I have to move and look forward, and will try again in applying Fine arts major in painting. 

again, thank you so much,

mae me
May 30, 2017
May 30, 2017

Hi Cecile, I am very blessed to know you here at World Pulse.  Reading your story is an inspiration to every woman to pursue dreams despite life challenges.  Your talent is a gift, may it reach more heart on every color, every sketch, and every idea that your hands do.

Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
YLLANG Montenegro
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Hi Mean, Thanks for supporting and for all the encouragements. Thanks for appreciating my talent and I am using it as my innate resource for my organization.

looking forward on meeting you soon!

Grace Amiola
May 30, 2017
May 30, 2017

Hello Ceciline,

I'm first going to say well-done and thank you for not giving up. You story is a great inspiration to me and it has taught me to pursue my goals no matter how hard it seems.

I am happy you are now busy bringing other women up to be who they want to be.

Cheers

Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
YLLANG Montenegro
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Dear Grace,

Thank you ! yes, life must always go on, whatever the obstacles, hardships that we face, life must go on. Even I didn't made it to pass for this school year, my heart is still burning on my pursuits, which are keep believing on my self, that one day I can go back to school and get proper education in painting, and use it in empowering people using ART.

love,

Lumbiwe Lulu Limbikani
May 31, 2017
May 31, 2017

Dear Cecille,

What an inspiring story. I am inspired to continue to pursue my dreams no matter what it takes. Thank you for sharing and looking forward to more.

In support, Lulu

YLLANG Montenegro
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Hi Lulu, 

Thank you, so glad that you liked and got inspired with my story, Yes, I think we have no choice but to be optimist and pursue our passion, because that is what our inner voices tells us to do. 

<3

Savita
May 31, 2017
May 31, 2017

Hi Cecille Pauline,

Just read your heart touching story full of inspiration. You're a shining star! The true beauty of a woman is reflected in her soul, your passion for painting added the colors of happiness to your life. Your belief in yourself helped you to choose your path of success.Thanks for sharing and keep doing so.May God bless you.

YLLANG Montenegro
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Dear  Savita,

Thank you, all of us here are a shining star! haha! I am glad that you see my story as an inspiration. God bless you too <3

Bekki Darling
Jun 02, 2017
Jun 02, 2017

Hi Cecille! I used to work the "night shift" in Tokyo, too, and can imagine how disorienting the city and the entertainment industry there can be. Though we have never met, I want you to know I am proud of you for staying true to your passion and returning to Japan as an advocate for art. Just amazing!

Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
YLLANG Montenegro
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Dear Bekki, 

Thank you, yes,  working at night in tokyo was tough, that is why I am using my story experiences to help women in my community to be aware on the realization in entertainment industry in japan.  Even up to now, there are many women who are becoming victims of human trafficking in the context of marriage and for being a JfC or Japanese-filipino child. 

once again, thank you for believing and yes, Art is a universal language that can create impact and change in our lives .

<3

Bekki Darling
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Please continue telling your story. It's so important for people to be aware of what is happening. Knowledge really is power. Sending you peace, love and strength!

Sister Zeph
Jun 04, 2017
Jun 04, 2017

My beloved Sister 

I can feel your passion through your writing  , you are a true inspiration for us, I must read your story to my students, some of them are very good painters but here parents do not  respect painting so girls give up but if they will read your story they will have inspiration to carry on with their dreams 

Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
YLLANG Montenegro
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Dear Sister Zeph,

Thank you so much,yes,  please tell your students about my story. I would love to speak, and very interested in using ART in amplifying voice. I hope I can meet or talk your students who loves paintings and share what I can do, to help motivate their creativity and imaginations, and be empowered through art .

You can connect with me thru IG: Yllang Montenegro and FB: Cecille Pauline Sanglap Monenegro-Florentino .

<3

Fiona De Brabanter
Jun 04, 2017
Jun 04, 2017

You are a very brave woman. When your heart whispers your true calling in life, listen carefully. If you follow your heart then everyone in the world will benefit.

Clodine Mbuli Shei
Jun 04, 2017
Jun 04, 2017

Inspiring Sister, its never late to pursue our dreams. Courage on your work

YLLANG Montenegro
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Hi Flowerpot,

Thank you, I think women are really brave, its natural. thank you or encouraging me and yeah, and yeah we cannot ignore our true calling and our passion, it will never stop in coming back.

<3

YLLANG Montenegro
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Dear Clodine,

Thank you, actually I didn't passed the last test, it was depressing event, but after two days, I realized that its not the end, there are other universities and opportunities to continue it. I really want to learn, my eagerness to go back to school is fire burning, because I know deep in my heart that I need to empower people by using art.   

Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Julia O
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Dear Cecille,

Thank you so much for posting your story. I found it very inspiring. I don't think it's ever too late for people to return to school and/or pursue their passions and it is incredible that you've decided to do both! I also really liked how you said you didn't realize you were an art activist until you read a definition of one. Your work is helping so many others. I wish you all the best with your return to your studies.

Thank you for sharing. Best wishes,

Julia

Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
YLLANG Montenegro
Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017

Dear Julia, Thak you so much for aprreciating the things that I am doing and the idea on going back to college.sadly, I didn't passed the last test, so I have to re apply it by next year or will look for other university where I can continue my college. Yes, I didnt know that I'm an art activist, I think I have to do it, because it comes out naturally, I really want to create change, in the lives of women, the migrant , youth and aspiring artist globally. <3

Jun 06, 2017
Jun 06, 2017
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Fiona De Brabanter
Jun 07, 2017
Jun 07, 2017

Dear Yllang,

I'm sorry to read that you didn't pass the test to get into university... But maybe this is a sign from the universe challenging your beliefs. You're 35, you're talented and you have so much experience. Why do you think you need a piece of paper to prove that you are good at something. Your art work is amazing ! You should feel empowered to do more art and to share your inspiration with the world, without having that degree from college. Go online. There are so many free resources on the internet. And showcase your stuff to the world. Do you have an Instagram account ? Is there a website (or other social media) were people can see what you're doing ? Do you plan on selling your art ? I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. And my first impression here is that it is time to get out there !

christelle
Jun 09, 2017
Jun 09, 2017

V raiment courage pour ton art en plus soyez benit pour ton organisation et que toute tes proger se realise au non de Jesus

Jun 09, 2017
Jun 09, 2017
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Lily Habesha
Jul 18, 2017
Jul 18, 2017

My DEAR BEAUTIFUL Cecile,

It is great to know you as a classmate on DCM 101...and to be a friend with you on FB.

I feel so honoured to know.

You are artistic.

We have to have a great show..here in Addis in A capital CIty of AFRICA. Hope you know that.

AU office, UN for Africa office, EU for Africa...and all the hugest NGOs are available here. If we organize a show in Addis, both of us can get a great exposure to the world.

lily Habesha

YLLANG Montenegro
Jul 18, 2017
Jul 18, 2017

Dear most beautiful Molatwa,

♡ first of all thank you for appreciating, I am gratefuk to know about this, its a great idea of collaboration,

How do we start? When is the show? Please email me, will send you a private message on fb or here.

I had problems in my internet, and the easiest engine is only FB. 

I am excited to be with you and your tribe ♡ thank you for supporting.

Btw, id like to tell you that I enrolled in other school with Fine arts course, I am excited to develop myself, to share whatever i will learn from the school. I would love to teach women and children painting from all over the world ♡♡♡ 

Lily Habesha
Jul 19, 2017
Jul 19, 2017

Hello Cecil,

Good to hear from you today. There is no exact...date for any show. But I can organize and ...look for a place and sponsors...let's just email each other about how we can do it...and ...We'll do it.

Mulitti

Lily Habesha
Jul 19, 2017
Jul 19, 2017

Hello Cecil,

Good to hear from you today. There is no exact...date for any show. But I can organize and ...look for a place and sponsors...let's just email each other about how we can do it...and ...We'll do it.

Mulitti