Fellow Since 1996
Fundação Bento Rubião
This profile was prepared when Itamar Silva was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996.
The New Idea
In pockets of Rio de Janeiro wrought by poverty, violence, drug trafficking and an overall lack of optimism about the future, Itamar Silva's School without Walls offers recreational, social and skills-building opportunities to children in the slums, or favelas, aged eight through seventeen, who might otherwise be seduced by the lure of easy money associated with criminal activities. In Itamar's own words, "The School without Walls is a space for learning about life...a time of growth and positive affirmation of identity, citizenship, and culture." This program is of vital importance because public policy and many citizen organizations do not serve these young people in the favelas. Children and adolescents who can speak by and for themselves, who understand that they can intervene effectively in law practice, who establish a dialogue with youth from the city, discouraging them from violence and drug trafficking–all this requires people who are self-critical, who have developed their identity and autonomy and who proudly exercise their citizenship.The School without Walls not only enables the youngsters to learn and grow as individuals who appreciate their identities, but also prepares them to face society by providing them with appropriate social and work-related skills. For example, Itamar aims to teach his students the importance of both group teamwork and individual independence as conditions for citizenship.Other initiatives that have emerged from the community have had little potential to transform the favelas, due to the absence of links among them. The School Without Walls therefore acts as a wire transmitting connections among the various initiatives. However, Itamar's project also improves upon the current options for young people. Whereas other initiatives–citizen-based programs and government-sponsored services alike–do not offer viable leisure and work alternatives to young adults, the School Without Walls is structured to respond to the distinct needs and aspirations of its participants. It is at once motivational, educational and vocational, aiming to help the youngsters become the type of citizens who will be able to reach beyond the limitations of their birth and circumstances. Itamar explains, "The utopianism of the School without Walls is that the young people involved believe in their ability to learn and...have an understanding of how our society functions. If [one] has those components, [one] will be able to perform any job with dignity and expectations." This message has already been spread to eight favelas in Rio de Janeiro.