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close this bookPeace Corps in Special Education and Rehabilitation (Peace Corps)
View the documentForeword
View the documentThe authors
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentMethodology
View the documentClassifying Peace Corps programs addressing the needs of disabled persons
close this folderSelected country reviews
View the documentBrazil
View the documentColombia
View the documentCosta Rica
View the documentGhana
View the documentJamaica
View the documentPhilippines
View the documentSeychelles
Open this folder and view contentsCritical factors influencing the effectiveness of Peace Corps' efforts in special education and rehabilitation
View the documentAlternative programming considerations
View the documentReferences
View the documentAppendix I - Country overviews
View the documentAppendix II - Volunteers with disabilities: experiences, issues, and recommendations
View the documentAppendix III - Peace Corps country survey
View the documentAppendix IV - Returned volunteer survey



119.2 million (1979 estimate)


Ethnic Groups: Portuguese, African, Mulatto


Population Density: 35.11/square mile; 61.2 % urban


3,286,478 square miles


Larger than the continental U.S., Brazil is divided into four regions:


the Amazon River basin, Northeast, South-Central and Southern Coastal.

Urban Centers:

Brasilia (Capital), Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Recife and Salvador


Federal Republic, independent from Portugal since 1882 (local divisions: 22 states, 4 territories and the Federal District)


Increasing industrialization


Brazil is classified as an "upper-middle income" country with a per capita GNP of $912 and an average annual per capita growth rate of 2.7%.


Free and compulsory


There is state responsibility for educational services and thus educational opportunities vary from state to state.


Approximately 10-20% of Brazilian children are without schooling.




69 (1977)


Life Expectancy (1970): 57.61 males; 61.1 females Infant Mortality (1977):


82/1000 Literacy Rate (1977): 70%


Disability in Brazil:

There are an estimated 9-12 million disabled persons in Brazil. Primary concern for disabled persons has traditionally been concentrated on physically handicapped persons, although increased attention is now being focused on the needs of the mentally retarded.

Institutional Infrastructure:

Brazil has the most extensive infrastructure of public and private agencies working with disabled persons of any country in which Peace Corps has worked. Several ministries of the government share responsibility for providing services to disabled persons, including the Ministry of Education and Culture (National Center for Special Education - CENESP), the Ministry of Health (National Secretary of Health, Division for Mental Health), and the Ministry of Social Welfare (National Foundation for Child Welfare).

An expansive network of schools has been created to assist low-income mentally and physically handicapped children. The schools, called APAEs (Association of Relatives and Friends of the Exceptional) operate on a nonprofit basis and depend almost exclusively upon public fund-raising. There are currently several hundred APAEs throughout Brazil offering a variety of services. For example, an APAE in Sao Paulo operates 5 satellite centers and provides diagnostic as well as therapeutic services. The Sao Paulo APAE also conducts research which is supported by CENESP, the government special education agency.

A special education teacher in Brazil has typically completed high school and taken a qualifying course varying from 3-12 months in duration. The Montessori teaching method has gained recent popularity and attention in Brazil.

The Pestalozzi Society, founded in 1932, has a long tradition of providing services, including teacher training and public education to benefit disabled persons. Initially established in Minas Gerais, there are units of the Society in many parts of Brazil. While residential care for disabled persons in Brazil is limited, the Pestalozzi Society does provide some residential care and is also active in training personnel to work with disabled persons.

The Brazilian government recognizes a critical need to train more special educators and health personnel to work with disabled persons. In 1974, 58,719 mentally retarded children were enrolled in 2,362 special education units throughout Brazil. In the Northeast region of Brazil, facilities are particularly overburdened, with 2() schools serving a five-state region of 2 million persons. Only 5% of retarded children attend school in this region.

Legislation Affecting Disabled Persons:

State laws in Brazil declare the rights of and provisions for disabled persons. In 1966, the Special Education Service conducted a study to guide the planning efforts of an educational system for mentally retarded children. While most schools for retarded persons are under private auspices, mentally retarded children do have the right, by law, to special education through the public school system.

Numerous efforts are underway regarding new legislation in housing, transportation, and employment for disabled persons.

Publications which deal with issues of disability in Brazil include:

Brazilian Association for the Scientific Study of Mental Deficiency Journal; the Pestalozzi Society Bulletin and Messagem (published by the National Federation of APAEs).


All Peace Corps work in Brazil was phased out in December of 1980. In order to document the impact of the work of special education and rehabilitation volunteers (approximately 150 in the past six years), the following overview of Peace Corps' work in that field is presented.

Aside from their involvement in special education project areas, volunteers have also provided assistance in vocational education and community health projects with significant impact on the lives of disabled persons in a wide variety of locations, assignments and settings in Brazil.

Institutions, other than APAEs, which have received support from Peace Corps Volunteers in recent years include: Fundação Dom Bosco, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais; Instituto Gammon, Lavras, Minas Gerais; Secretaria de Educação, Governo do Estado do Ceará, Fortaleza, Ceará; Occupational Therapy Department of the University of Fortaleza, Fortaleza, Ceará and Escola de Ciencias Medicas, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais.

Additionally, volunteers have worked at a School for the Mentally Retarded in Crato, Ceará FEBEM (a social welfare foundation) in Fortaleza, Ceará a medical hospital in Campina Grande, and leprosariums in various locations in Minas Gerais.

Vocational Education

• Volunteers have worked as advisors to the Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Minors in creating rehabilitation programs for abandoned children. Those volunteers working in community health have been assigned primarily to schools for physically and emotionally disturbed children and concentrated their efforts on designing occupational programs. In 1979 there were seven volunteers on one such project including a pediatric nurse and an orthopedic technician.

Special Education and Rehabilitation

• The Peace Corps has also worked with the Fundação Estadual de Leprocomial (FEAL), an agency concerned with providing medical care to patients with Hansen's Disease (formerly called leprosy). Persons with Hansen's Disease typically receive only custodial care in leprosariums which house 600-800 persons. Preventive care for the patients is minimal and there is little educational activity directed toward the patients regarding the causes and possible treatments of deformities caused by the disease. The Peace Corps has provided occupational therapists to work in leprosariums to create a rehabilitation sector which will provide leisure time activities for the patients. Other activities involved lectures on the importance of hand and foot care, instruction on the use of special devices and community education to help combat common misconceptions about the disease.

• Volunteers have also contributed to the rehabilitation sector in the area of orthopedic care through the Bahian Rehabilitation Institute which offers physical and occupational therapy as well as psychological testing and medical services. The volunteers, assigned as orthopedic technicians, evaluated workshop services and served as consultants on the purchase and construction of new equipment to better meet the needs of the Institute.

• Direct services have been provided to approximately 860 children and their families in special education and rehabilitation projects.

APAE Program

Volunteers have worked in the APAE system as administrators, supervisors, trainers and teachers in a wide variety of locations throughout Brazil. The following activities provide examples of their assignments in APAE schools:

• Special education advisors for the deaf work in APAEs to strengthen the overall special education program. The APAE in Minas Gerais (with an enrollment of approximately 160 children) has received Peace Corps support in this capacity.

• Volunteers have worked in the areas of physical education, physical therapy, speech therapy and special education in APAEs in Belo Horizonte. In 1978 there were 18 volunteers in the rehabilitation project.

• The first Special Olympics was planned with an APAE in Espirito Santo with collaboration from the National Federation of APAEs (400 participants).

Teacher Training

Peace Corps/Brazil's major focus has been in the area of teacher training. Specific activities carried out in this area include:

• Central legion: in-service training given to 45 personnel at APAEs; courses in occupational therapy given to 62 persons in Espirito Santo and Minas Gerais; course given in physical education and recreation to 98 persons in Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo.

• Northeast Region: training of two physical education teachers in Crato, Ceará 40 college-level physical education teachers trained to work with mentally retarded children; four special education teachers trained in an APAB in Rio Grande do Norte; an occupational therapy program created at the Ceará State Secretariat of Education; a speech therapy program created at a school in Fortaleza; a physical education program initiated in a Fortaleza APAE; and counterparts trained in the total communication approach for deaf persons.

Contributions to the field of special education include the following papers and articles written by special education volunteers:

"An Introduction to Cerebral Palsy - Bobath Method" "Manual da Educação Fisica Para Escolas da Excepcionais" "Musica na Escola Excepcional" "Fisioterapia pare Quadriplegieos e Paraplegieos" "Construção do Tratamento de Bobath" "Introdução a Paralisia Cerebral no Metodo Bobath" "Directives for Treatment of Leper Patients" "Directives for Rehabilitation Patients" "Manuals and Directives Regarding 'Tratamento dos Cegos"' "A Criança Excepcional e Sua Educação" "Aspeeto da Recreção no Tratamento da Criança Excepcional" "As Olimpíadas Especiais"


In its many years of work in special education/rehabilitation in Brazil, Peace Corps workers have made a measurable contribution to developing the human potential of thousands of disabled Brazilian citizens.

The decision of the Brazilian government to phase out all Peace Corps activity has both positive and negative implications for special education and rehabilitation. There is the possibility that Peace Corps' departure will result in increased demand for additional incountry support of the disabled and that the Brazilian government will increase its funding of services during the International Year of Disabled Persons. However, there is little question that the departure of Peace Corps workers will, at least temporarily, leave a gap in service to many disabled persons. A businessman from Sergipe remarked to the authors that, "It is a tragedy for us to lose the volunteers who helped our handicapped children. They went to the poorest villages in the most remote part of our state and gave hope and training where none existed before. The parents of the children cried when the volunteers left because they know they will not be replaced."

It is interesting and important to note how Brazil managed to attract so many special education and rehabilitation Peace Corps workers. Certainly the need and opportunity were there, but it is also apparent that a remarkable Peace

Corps staff person in Brazil had the major hand in this impressive record. Vitor Braga was a regional director for Peace Corps/Brazil from 1973-1979 and was based in Belo Horizonte, a large city in Minas Gerais. A Brazilian attorney by profession, Braga had a special affection for handicapped children and sought to help numerous APAE schools in Minas Gerais get Peace Corps Volunteers with backgrounds in special education, occupational therapy, and other areas concerned with disabled persons. Through the APAE organization, the contribution of Peace Corps workers quickly became known and new volunteers sought throughout Brazil.

The record of Peace Corps in Brazil demonstrates the potency of the combination of good staff support, an expressed human need, skilled Peace Corps workers, and good host agency support.

The authors believe that Peace Corps" contributions to the lives of disabled persons in Brazil over its 18-year history of work in that country, constitute the single largest and most effective effort to improve the quality of life of disabled people of any international organization in the world.

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