Twenty-five percent of the residents of Rio de Janeiro live in informal communities called favelas. Not fully slums but not fully integrated into the city either, these favelas are home to both horrific gang violence and some of the most creative and resourceful people in Rio. I wanted to show what they look like on the inside:
Most international coverage of favelas focuses on drug violence. The press's hyper-focus on the sensational aspects of favelas is slowly changing, but someone not very familiar with Brazil is likely to associate favelas with violence and drugs.
When I decided to go to Rio, it was to cover how the Olympics is affecting the city. I had been told that favelas were the slums of Rio, places I shouldn't go. But as I talked to locals in preparation for the trip, I started hearing stories that challenged my ideas about these lawless and informal neighborhoods. What I was hearing didn't jell with images from the hit film City of God or the video game Modern Warfare.
Instead, I was hearing stories of people living peaceful lives despite being structurally neglected by their government. This struck me as much more fascinating than stories of violent crime.
As I looked deeper, it came as no surprise that some of Brazil's most cherished and renowned cultural archetypes emerged from Rio's favelas. Samba, the iconic Brazilian music and dance, is a product of the favelas. So is Carnival, the mega festival held each year in Rio.
This isn't to say that the drug gangs in Rio are not a big problem. They certainly are. But for all the attention paid to the violence in favelas, I found the peaceful, resourceful, and creative forces at play much more interesting and inspiring.