This profile was prepared when Valdênia Paulino was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
After 20 years of human rights work, Valdênia has developed a simple formula for defending the rights of marginalized communities: teach them their rights and give them access to the mechanisms that exist to protect them. Through the Center of Human Rights of Sapopemba (CDH) in São Paulo, she teaches communities to understand their rights and to identify widespread violations. Once these patterns have been detected, Valdênia brings the legal system directly to the communities through public hearings that force judges and other participants to recognize local realities and take action to curb rights abuses. While this community-level work is the cornerstone of Valdênia’s efforts, she has also recognized that the roots of legal apartheid reach deep throughout mainstream society. To this end, Valdênia works with university students—the future public officials. She has created programs that bring the privileged university class into low-income communities and exposes them to real human rights struggles to complement their research and university courses. Valdênia also uses the media to publicize her work, pressure officials and lawmakers to travel outside city centers, and challenge the negative stereotypes of low-income areas.