Brazil | Study Abroad | Public Health | Human Rights | Portuguese

Brazil: Public Health, Race, and Human Rights

Study healthcare policy and community well-being in Brazil. Investigate how grassroots organizations, community activists, and university professors work together to improve access to healthcare and other basic services while considering the complex racial dynamics of Northeast Brazil.

This program provides an in-depth exploration of healthcare in different groups and communities in Brazil. You will study how individual and community well-being is affected by race, social class, politics, and other factors. You will analyze Brazil’s national healthcare system; traditional  healing methods, especially those rooted in the Candomblé spiritual belief system; and other alternative health options. You will learn from physicians and nurses, government health officials, political activists, NGO representatives, urban and rural residents, herbalists and Candomblé healers, indigenous leaders, homestay families and others. In all examples, healthcare will be viewed as a basic human right.

Major topics of study include:

  • Understanding health care and other basic services as human rights
  • Brazil’s public health policies and practices
  • Health, healing, and spirituality in Afro-Brazilian and indigenous groups
  • Racial dynamics and access to healthcare
  • Health of the Afro-Brazilian population
  • Social, economic, and ideological determinants of health
  • Innovative community and NGO responses to healthcare, human rights, and racial issues

Examine healthcare and human rights concerns among marginalized groups.

You will examine how different groups access healthcare and other basic services necessary to achieve well-being. You will consider the impact of key policies on Afro-descendent communities, indigenous groups, impoverished classes, and additional groups somehow othered in Brazilian society. Each program component links the struggle to attain viable healthcare and good health to racial realities, social injustices, and human rights concerns in Brazil.

Live in Salvador, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

SalvadorSalvador was Brazil's first capital city and the former center of the Portuguese colonial empire. In 1985, the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its historical importance, cultural vibrancy, and aesthetic appeal. Read more about Salvador’s UNESCO designation. Today, Salvador is home to Brazil's largest Afro-Brazilian population. While in Salvador, you will attend classes at the program center, live with a host family, and experience the city’s vibrant traditional, spiritual, musical, artistic, and culinary cultures.


Gain a range of perspectives on healthcare in Brazil’s northeast.

Candomble Health CenterBy visiting a variety of healthcare facilities including hospitals, health centers, Candomblé houses, and other religious institutions, you will gain insight into different types of health care and health-seeking practices. You will learn about the decision-making processes that draw patients to different facilities or practices and how different healthcare sites strategize and adapt (or don’t) to meet the changing needs of their growing communities.


Engage with community activists and human rights organizations.

Dance WorkshopYou will experience firsthand how community activism groups, grassroots organizations, university professors, and a wide range of community members are working to secure and improve basic rights — including education, health, sanitation, shelter, and others — for racial minorities. You will have an opportunity to engage in community projects with organizations functioning as active agents for change, which will move you from lectures and readings directly to daily realities.


Visit quilombo communities.

Quilombo communityYou will visit a rural quilombo — communities founded by former slaves — to meet with community members and participate in community welfare projects. The more than 1,000 quilombos in the northeast region of Brazil have been historically isolated and excluded from mainstream Brazilian society. You will visit communities facing extremely poor living conditions and very limited access to  healthcare, sanitation, educational opportunities, and other services now understood as human rights.

Experience contrasting homestay communities.

You will participate in both urban and rural homestays to learn what daily life is like for Brazilians living in two distinct areas. Through your conversations and exchanges with families from different socioeconomic backgrounds, you will learn about how local families view and experience the challenges Brazil faces with regards to race, healthcare access, and other human rights.

Engage in a community study project.

You will spend the final four weeks of the semester engaged in an independent Public Health, Race, and Human Rights Project. This opportunity allows you to become immersed in the local environment and utilize social science methods to explore more deeply a health/community project directly related to your interests or career focus while in Brazil.


None, although a background in Portuguese, Spanish, or another Romance language is highly recommended. Studying Portuguese independently prior to arrival is highly encouraged.

Access virtual library guide.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Public Health in the Context of Contemporary Brazil – syllabus
(IPBH3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
This course focuses on public healthcare issues as well as community welfare policies and realities. Students examine the Brazilian national healthcare system along with alternative healthcare practices, focusing more specifically on the northeast region of Brazil. Students observe firsthand the functioning of the healthcare system at the primary level and also consider the response of NGOs, community organizations, and other institutions to understand how Brazilians pursue health and well-being. Students critically engage with the Brazilian model for public health, Sistema Único de Saúde, and analyze key Brazilian national health programs focused on Afro-Brazilian health issues and other marginalized populations. Students also study health concepts and practices used by Afro-Brazilian and indigenous groups, considering the connection between healing and spiritual beliefs and examining how this plays out in alternative treatments for a range of illnesses. Finally, students explore the social determinants of health as they relate to both state-sponsored and alternative methods of health treatment. This course is conducted in English and Portuguese (with interpretation).
Racial Dynamics, Community Activism, and Human Rights in Brazil – syllabus
(IPBH3005 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
This course explores racial ideology in Brazil and how it intersects with basic human rights. Students examine racial theory, racism, and the construction of the Brazilian identity and culture from a historical perspective. Along with health, the Universal Declaration of the United Nations also names a range of other human rights, which include the right to social services, education, and employment. In this course, students continue their exploration of how access to human rights intersects with racial dynamics in Brazil, and how individuals and communities work to secure and improve this access. Students will explore such issues as economics, housing, sanitation, and education, focusing in particular on the African-descendant population and indigenous people as two of the nation’s most clearly marginalized groups. This seminar is a combination of lectures and excursions, which provide the opportunity to engage with local people from quilombo and indigenous communities, and an array of NGOs to explore issues pertaining to race, public service access and alternative options. The course is conducted in English and Portuguese (with interpretation).
Portuguese for the Health Sciences I – syllabus
(PORT1003 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Portuguese for the Health Sciences II – syllabus
(PORT1503 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Portuguese for the Health Sciences III – syllabus
(PORT2003 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
In this course, students build their speaking, reading, and writing skills through classroom and field instruction. They learn the terms and expressions needed to conduct field projects; to discuss health, race, and human rights-related topics; and to interact in settings connected to the program’s themes. Students are placed in small classes based on an in-country evaluation that tests both written and oral proficiency. Guided self-instruction is available to students who test out of the available courses.
Field Methods and Ethics in Social Science and Health – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
In this methods course designed to prepare students for the Public Health, Race, and Human Rights Project, students learn how to organize and conduct independent work in, and to collaborate productively with, local communities on topics related to the program’s main themes. Through lectures, readings, and field activities, students examine the ethical issues surrounding community and public health work; learn to write proposals for independent projects; and practice methods appropriate to a range of project topics and designs. All students will identify a site in which to study a topic related to the program themes and their specific areas of interest. While the primary independent activity students will undertake is a community project — whether framed as a case study or a project proposal developed in cooperation with the community group — students will also be exposed to methods appropriate to health studies to lay a foundation for future work and study in this general field of public health and human rights. The course is conducted in English and Portuguese (with interpretation).
Public Health, Race, and Human Rights Project – syllabus
(LACB3060 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
In this course, students select a community organization with whom to partner, and they complete an independent project or case study as agreed upon with the academic director and in the methods course. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program and culminates in a final presentation and formal paper or report in English or Portuguese. Sample topic areas: health of adolescent mothers and their children with the Climério de Oliveira Maternity Hospital in Salvador; factors affecting well-being in Remanso and Pitanga dos Palmares quilombo communities; healing in the Candomblé tradition with Ilê Axé Apô Afonjá Candomblé Temple and others; drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs at CAPS — a public clinic; mapping sickle cell anemia with ABADFAL organization; dengue, zika and chikungunya diagnosis and treatment in Ilha de Maré; HIV/AIDS education and prevention with the NGO GGB; the CEDAP Agency and Brazil’s AIDS policy; empowerment and self-care for women at Odara Institute, pre- and postnatal care in the Afro-Brazilian community; working with municipal nurses and community agents in local health centers. Students may study in Salvador, elsewhere in the state of Bahia, or in another approved location in the Brazilian northeast appropriate to the project and program theme.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Shadowing the health officials and seeing exactly what they did really opened my mind and let me see what life really is as a health professional. The fact that we got firsthand experience with the world of public health was invaluable.

Program alum

Museum at LencoisEducational excursions are an integral part of the program, complementing classroom learning and thematic coursework. Visits to underprivileged areas give you a deeper understanding of how historical oppression affects the lives of the poor in Brazil today.

Topics raised during excursions include:

  • Racial inequality and politics in Brazil
  • Historical oppression and social exclusion of Afro-Brazilians
  • Political mobilization, racial democracy, and identity
  • Health, environmental, and social justice
  • Alternative and public healthcare options and outcomes
  • Social determinants of health
  • Community empowerment and activism

During excursions, you will interact with community leaders, community residents, and healthcare and other service providers to study the challenges of providing/accessing equitable and high-quality healthcare and social services.

You will participate in excursions to federal, state, and municipal health facilities, Afro-Brazilian religious centers, traditional communities, and NGOs. 

CandombleTerreiro de Candomblé

A terreiro de Candomblé is a shrine or temple for the parishioners of Candomblé, one of the most widespread Afro-Brazilian belief systems and practices in contemporary Brazil. In Candomblé, health is integrated into the notion of a mystic universe, and the human body is not viewed as separate from the spirit of life. Candomblé helps to promote the healing process, which often takes place in the terreiro. In a country where most of the poor have limited access to institutionalized health facilities, the terreiro also functions as an important site for health treatments and support. During the excursion to a terreiro de Candomblé, you will speak with priests, priestesses, and parishioners about their beliefs and experiences.

Ilha de Maré (Tide Island)

Tide IslandYou will travel by boat to Ilha de Maré. Located at the northern end of the Bahia de Todos os Santos (the Bay of All Saints), Ilha de Maré, is home to a quilombo community. Although the island is not far in distance from the city of Salvador, the history and living conditions of its residents differ greatly from that of the mainland population. Until recently, the island was fairly isolated, making it an ideal place to observe and participate in the life of an Afro-Brazilian community. To date, the island still has no roads or cars, and in the township of Praia Grande some residents still communicate in African languages during religious activities.

During this excursion, you will learn about how social exclusion — understood as lack of access to health services, formal education, transportation, potable water, and employment — interacts and impacts the life of Afro-Brazilians. In particular, you will consider economic sustainability efforts for women and how economics relates to the health status of its inhabitants. You will also study the environmental problems affecting the community, particularly local fishermen, which in turn relates to the community’s health and well-being.


You will also spend four days in the rural area of Cachoeira. On this excursion, you will shadow public health professionals and primary community health agents and visit traditional healers and educational institutions. You will also conduct interviews and learn about the community. You will come away with an understanding of how the community accesses different health facilities and resources and what daily life looks like in this particular area.


RemanscoYou will spend a week in the rural quilombo community of Remanso located outside the city of Lençois, in the Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina. You will have an opportunity to explore how social exclusion leads to human rights and racial infringements and to learn about the connection between physical environment and health, identity building, community empowerment, and sustainability efforts. While specific activities may vary from semester to semester, students have done such things as painting community centers, constructing and planting community gardens, and meeting with youth or women’s groups; they have also learned how to fish, make traditional medicine, gather honey, or construct fish traps as a way to engage with the community members and learn more about local livelihoods.

Manaus, Amazonas (fall semesters only)

In collaboration with UNICEF, you will participate in a weeklong excursion to Manaus, the capital of the Amazonas state. This remote city of more than two million is reachable only by boat or plane.

In Manaus and along the Rio Negro, you will learn about a region experiencing significant change and challenges. By meeting with community leaders, participating in talks about social justice, public health, and other human rights, you will begin to construct a basic theoretical understanding of how these issues are being discussed and explore the practical grassroots means by which they are being addressed.

You will gain unique insight into traditional health systems and indigenous knowledge by meeting river-based communities along the Rio Negro. While in Manaus, you will visit a range of communities and NGOs to explore the innovative community-based strategies and responses to the issues explored during your program and consider to what extent these strategies can serve as a platform for responses in other locations around the world.

Students from the Brazil: Social Innovation and Community Development program will join your group on this excursion.

Rio de Janeiro (spring semesters only)

In Rio de Janeiro, a sprawling metropolis on Brazil’s southeast coast with a population of nearly 12 million people, you will explore how social movements, NGOs, and community-based projects are developing new knowledge and new forms of community action to intervene and promote social transformation in the persistent social inequalities that have plagued this city since its colonial creation. You will engage with leading scholars and cutting-edge social technologies designed to confront the complex issues of race, gender, human rights, public health, and individual and structural violence.

Students from the Brazil: Social Innovation and Community Development program will join your group on this excursion.

VenturaGabriela Ventura, MBA, Academic Director

Gabriela Ventura is a Brazilian and American citizen with an MBA in project management from the Escola Superior de Administração, Marketing e Comunicação, in São Paulo, Brazil, and she is an MA candidate in socio-cultural anthropology at Columbia University. Her MBA project proposed a bilingual course for technical schools in Campinas, São Paulo, aiming to train and equip business administration technicians for the global market and close the gap between the demand and offer for English speaking professionals in technical areas. She gained extensive experience in program implementation and management through this venture. She earned her BA in cultural anthropology and French from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.

Gabriela has worked as a program coordinator and admissions counselor for SIT Latin America and Africa programs, led Experiment in International Living high school programs in Morocco and France, and is an alumna of SIT programs in both Madagascar and France. She has worked professionally as a middle and high school history teacher and middle school English teacher (as first and second language) in international schools in São Paulo. She has also acted as a Portuguese translator and interpreter in a number of areas. Gabriela currently volunteers in religious institutions, giving support in community outreach and social causes; she has also volunteered in orphanages in Brazil’s northeastern state of Alagoas. Currently, she serves as a warden for the state of Bahia with the US Consulate in Rio de Janeiro.

As academic director, Gabriela oversees all aspects of the program. In addition to giving occasional lectures and advising students, she plans the program’s educational excursions; lectures; manages the local office, staff, and finances; and works to ensure that students’ academic needs are met, among other things. A native of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, with twenty-plus years’ residency in New York, Gabriela draws on her networks and experiences throughout Brazil and the USA, her involvement in sociocultural activities within the community, and her profound bicultural knowledge.

Rafaela Loureiro, Program Assistant

Rafaela Loureiro has a BA in Business Management from Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA). She has worked in the public services and administrative communications sectors in established private and public organizations in Salvador. She participated in Quality Control Circle’s meetings and during her professional career, was able to gain experience in teamwork and conflict management. She has an English course certification from Universidade do Estado da Bahia (UNEB).

Working as Program Assistant for SIT Study Abroad since August 2015, Rafaela provides ongoing administrative, programmatic and logistical support to the Academic Director and other members of the staff. She is responsible for assisting in the organization and operation of site visits, field projects and excursions. Rafaela also facilitates visa registration processes and provides overall support to SIT students.

Paula Santos, Interpreter and Field Projects Coordinator 

Paula SantosPaula Santos is an expert in international educational support and brings with her a vast range of contacts in the state of Bahia, which range from governmental organizations to universities, from cultural agencies to civil society organizations. She has worked with SIT Study Abroad programs in Brazil for more than 20 years, organizing and coordinating race and gender seminars, identifying partner NGOs for visits and service learning opportunities, assisting the academic director organizing and advising students on their Public Health and Community Projects, and providing translation for SIT lectures , field activities, and excursions.

Paula is a professional simultaneous interpreter and is fluent in English, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.  She is one of Brazil’s most engaging cultural experts. Paula has worked for many years in socially and educationally engaging tourism.  She has also built solid partnerships with important Afro-Brazilian religious leaders and grass roots community organizations.

As an interpreter Paula regularly works with professional organizations both inside and outside Brazil, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the Ford Foundation, World Food Program-UN, among others.  And planned and/or led Study Abroad Programs for UDM- Detroit, Your World Group Foundation, Inc., Merritt College, NYU-Tish School of Arts, Viver  Brasil Institute/ Bahia Dance Program, IOWA State University, among others.

Her areas of expertise include Afro-Brazilian Culture, Religion and Art. She is also a lecturer on women's issues in Bahia. She has been guest lecturer to Zeghram’s Expeditions, John Hopkins University – Center for Africana Studies, among others.

Paula is on the board of TOBOSSIS, a non- governmental organization that focuses on gender, media and race. She is also on the advisory committee of Ogum’s Toques Literary Collective, which promotes contemporary Afro-Brazilian literature. 

Lecturers for this program typically include:

Professor Andreia Beatriz Silva dos Santos, MD

an SantosDr. Andreia Beatriz Silva dos Santos has a strong background in the medical and healthcare field, with a special focus on family planning and public health. She holds a medical degree from Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz-Ilhéus/Bahia (UESC) as well as a master’s degree in public health from the Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana (UESC) and is completing her doctorate in public health from the Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA). She has coordinated and supervised various initiatives, particularly in Bahia, including programs for basic health services for underserved communities. Her most recent publications discuss the right to equal healthcare as well as institutional racism as it relates to public health. She lectures in the area of race, public health and the national healthcare system since 2014. 

Professor Climene Laura de Camargo, PhD

Climene CamargoProfessor Climene Laura de Camargo obtained a BA in nursing from the Faculdade Adventista de Enfermagem in 1975, a master’s degree in nursing from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in 1990, and a doctorate in public health from the Universidade de São Paulo in 1996. Additionally, she obtained a postdoctoral degree from the Université René Descartes-Sorbonne, Paris, France, in 2009.

Presently, she is an associate professor at the Universidade Federal da Bahia’s Nursing School in Bahia, Brazil. She is a specialist in pediatric nursing and also works as a consultant and educator on issues related to health education, violence, and Afro-Brazilian healthcare. Professor Climene is the academic director of the Nascer Project, a research project she created at the Universidade Federal da Bahia, where she has participated in several research studies. In addition, she is a member of the Afro-Brazilian Health Program, created by the Brazilian Ministry of Health to improve Afro-Brazilians’ access to the National Health System. She has taught classes for SIT on gender, Afro-Brazilian health and pre-natal care since 2006.

homestayYou will participate in several homestay experiences, which provide a varied and nuanced picture of the socioeconomic differences within what is considered to be typical Brazilian daily life. Host families provide a safe and welcoming environment, allowing you to experience the different facets of Brazilian home life firsthand. Many students consider the homestay experience to be one of the most meaningful parts of the program.

Urban Homestay in Salvador

During the first seven weeks of the semester, you will live with a host family in Salvador, where you will experience urban culture in the northeast, practice your Portuguese language skills, and learn about your host family's experience with the Brazilian healthcare system and engage them in discussions about basic rights and racial issues in the community. You will be welcomed as a member of your host family and integrated into the family's everyday activities.

Please note that students live in different socioeconomic neighborhoods — some underprivileged, some middle class. When possible, you will be placed with a homestay family who has some aspect related to your own academic or personal interests.

Rural Homestays in Cachoeira and Remanso

The rural homestays include a four-day homestay in Cachoeira and a seven-day homestay in Remanso. During the excursion to Cachoeira, located in the Recôncavo Region of Bahia, a two-hour drive from Salvador, you will have a short rural homestay experience in Alecrim, the rural area of Cachoeira. Most of the host families are small agricultural producers, mainly of cassava, okra, tropical fruits, and vegetables. For four days, you will live with your host family while learning about the day-to-day cultural life of this community and studying the social determinants of health in this area.

In Remanso, you will participate in a rural homestay in a quilombo located outside the city of Lençóis, in the Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina. For seven days, you will learn about the intersections between physical environments and health, community access to a variety of social services, and the community’s response vis-à-vis the absence of a range of basic human rights.

Other accommodations on the program could include hostels, private homes, or small hotels.

Students from many colleges, universities, and majors study abroad on this program. Many of them have gone on to do important work that connects back to their experience abroad with SIT. Learn what some of them are now doing.

Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • Graduate research assistant, Center for Health Equity Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC
  • Education programs director, Thirst Project, Los Angeles, CA
  • Intern, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, DC

Program Dates: Spring 2017

Program Arrival Date:  Mar 6, 2017

Program Departure Date:    Jun 18, 2017

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Nov 3, 2016


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $15,955

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Health, society, and culture
    • Public health, community welfare, and social justice
    • Brazilian public health policies
    • Alternate health practices
    • Race, gender, and diversity
  • Public Health and Community Project
  • Methods and Ethics Seminar
  • Intensive language instruction in Portuguese
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Ilha de Maré, Santo Amaro (Movement of Landless Rural Workers), Cachoeira, Remanso, and Manaus or Rio de Janeiro, including all related travel costs
  • Public Health, Race, and Human Rights Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food) 
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $3,020

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation; at the program base (Salvador); on all excursions; during the Public Health, Race, and Human Rights Project; and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay. 
  • All homestays (seven weeks in Salvador and rural homestays in Cachoeira and Remanso).   
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $ 400

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $ 200

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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