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Brazil: Public Health, Race, and Human Rights

Brazil: Public Health, Race, and Human Rights

Study healthcare policy and community well-being in Brazil. Investigate how grassroots organizations, community activists, university professors, and political activists work together to improve access to healthcare and other basic services.

This program provides an in-depth exploration of healthcare in different groups and communities in Brazil. You will study how individual as well as community well-being is affected by race, social class, politics, and other factors. You will analyze Brazil’s national healthcare system, traditional Afro-Brazilian 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, homestay families and others. In all examples, healthcare will be viewed as a basic human right.

Major topics of study include:

  • Understanding healthcare 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
  • Social, economic, and ideological determinants of health
  • Innovative community and NGO responses to healthcare, human rights, and racial issues


drums in BrazilExamine 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.

Salvador 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 base, live with a host family, and experience the city’s vibrant musical, artistic, and culinary cultures.

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

By visiting a variety of healthcare facilities including hospitals, Family Health Program, clinics, Candomblé temples, and other religious institutions, you will gain insight into different types of healthcare 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.

You 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.

You 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.

ItaparicaExperience 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 an independent community project.

You will spend the final four weeks of the semester engaged in a Public Health and Community Project. This opportunity allows you to explore more deeply a health/community project directly related to your specific interests or career focus while in Brazil.


None, although prior experience in Portuguese or Spanish is highly recommended.

Access virtual library guide.

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 class 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 local 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, the 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 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 class hours)
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 human rights access 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. The course is conducted in English and Portuguese (with interpretation).

Portuguese for the Health Sciences I – syllabus
(PORT1000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Portuguese for the Health Sciences II – syllabus
(PORT1500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Portuguese for the Health Sciences III – syllabus
(PORT2000 / 3 credits / 45 class 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.

Public Health and Community Projects: Methods and Ethics – syllabus coming soon
(IPBH3500 /3 credits / 45 class hours)
In this methods course designed to prepare students for the Public Health and Community Projects, students learn how to organize and conduct independent work. 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. Practicum, case study, and other approaches are all possible. The course is conducted in English and Portuguese.

Public Health and Community Projects – syllabus coming soon
(ISPR3000 /4 credits / 120 class hours)
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. In this course, students select a community organization with whom to partner, and they complete an independent project, case study, or practicum as agreed upon with the 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; 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.

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

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

street in Brazil

Educational 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 and Afro-Brazilian religious centers, as well as to the Irmãndade da Boa Morte, a religious sisterhood founded in the nineteenth century by former slaves in Cachoeira.

Terreiro 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.

family in BrazilIlha de Maré (Tide Island)

You 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, visit traditional healers, and visit 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.


You 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 meeting centers, constructing and planting community gardens, and meeting with youth or women’s groups; they have also learned how to fish, make traditional medicine or honey, or construct fish traps as a way to engage with the community members and learn more about local livelihoods.


In Fortaleza, you will have the unique opportunity to engage in an exchange with students on SIT’s social justice program. You will listen to talks about social justice, construct a basic theoretical understanding of how these issues are being discussed in the city, and visit a range of NGOs that are working on these themes and with whom the Fortaleza students are conducting their own studies. This visit will be reciprocated when Fortaleza students visit Salvador to focus on health as an issue of social justice and a human right.

Gabriela 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.

Dr. Andreia Beatriz Silva dos Santos, Academic Coordinator, Health and Medicine

Dr. Andreia Beatriz Silva dos Santos joins SIT with a strong background in the medical and healthcare field, with a special focus on family 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 supports the program by giving lectures in fieldwork methods, identifying and organizing community projects, and advising and evaluating students’ Public Health and Community Projects.

Paula Santos, International Program Specialist

Paula 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, organizing and advising students on their Public Health and Community Projects, and providing translation for SIT classes, field activities, and excursions. Paula is also a lecturer on women's issues in Bahia.

Lecturers for this program typically include:

Professor Climene Laura de Camargo, PhD

Professor 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 students on the Brazilian health program since 2006.

You will participate in several different 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 members 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.

homestay community in BrazilRural 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.

Program Dates: Spring 2016

Program Start Date:  Feb 15, 2016

Program End Date:    May 29, 2016

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 1, 2015


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 Fortaleza, including all related travel costs
  • Public Health and Community Projects (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, time in the program base (Salvador), on all excursions, during the Independent Study 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: $100

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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SIT was founded as the School for International Training and has been known as SIT Study Abroad and SIT Graduate Institute since 2007. SIT is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

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