José Marmo da Silva

Ashoka Fellow
Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Fellow Since 1996


This profile was prepared when José Marmo da Silva was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996.
The New Idea
After correctly diagnosing how and why public health campaigns and services in Brazil do not reach Afro-Brazilians, Marmo da Silva, a dentist by training, has designed an alternative discourse about health that expresses and affirms Afro-Brazilian culture. His "by-and-for Afro-Brazilians" initiatives recruit religious and cultural leaders (priests, artists, musicians, intellectuals, activists and others) to design health messages, for example, on HIV prevention, that have direct symbolic appeal for Afro-Brazilians. Capitalizing upon early successes with these message campaigns, Marmo has forged a new alliance for health among leading Afro-Brazilian institutions and raised health and Afro-Brazilian culture to the top of the program of action of the Afro-Brazilian movement. His next steps involve consolidating a series of permanent health promotion mechanisms that operate from an Afro-Brazilian cultural root. He is now piloting, for example, a mobile "health stall" that circulates health information, distributes condoms, and alerts people to their public health entitlements.
Marmo sees the health stalls as the prototype for a fully fledged "community health nucleus"-a permanent community institution that promotes health from the perspective of Afro-Brazilian culture. In addition to education, counseling and referrals to public health services, the nuclei will be repositories of knowledge of natural and traditional healing practices. As such, they will represent a bridge between complementary medicine and western medicine. They will work creatively to mobilize around health from the deepest cultural wellsprings of the Afro-Brazilian community, places that celebrate community health. They also ground the political dimension of his vision, namely, that full citizenship for black Brazilians-in the sense of their claiming their fair share of the political pie-can only happen once they have raised their self-esteem through cultural affirmation.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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