Rocinha, Rio Brazil
Rocinha, Rio Brazil

Between The Wars.

Everything on my plate is beige, again. That’s five days now. I’ve come to realise that I am at greater risk of dying of malnutrition, than getting caught in the crossfire of one of the gangs that control the neighbourhoods. Like the vegetables, the guns here are well hidden.

When I meet friends in the wealthier districts they are amazed that I live to see the end of each day; to the Cariocas a favela is a no-go-zone, but in truth I am safer in Rocinha than on the Copacabana. Here I am part of the community, I am teaching their kids. Anywhere else I’m just another Gringa tourist.

Rocinha, Rio Brazil. 2016
Rocinha, Rio Brazil. 2016

Rocinha is the land that Google Maps forgot. With few street names I navigate by memory and landmarks; left at the big trash pile, right at the S-curve, through the chicken run, down Penrose Stairs. A concrete labyrinth held together by string, dog faeces and good will. Environmental Health would have a field day here, that is, if Health and Safety applied to the favelas. The desire or facility to enforce it simply does not exist.

There is an unspoken rule that the gangs stay away from the schools, but the volunteers organise an after-school-disco when gunfire breaks out at the end of the day. We can hear the fireworks above Justin Beiber, but the children do not seem to notice, or perhaps they have become accustomed to the noise. Differences are settled quickly, and we call the parents to tell them it is safe to collect their children. Life in Rio’s largest favela carries on amongst the chaos.

I meet the adult students at a language exchange and discus the day’s events. There is no excitement or fear. It is matter of fact; these things happen, it is part of favela life. I chat with Obi, a 21 year old entrepreneur. His father died when he was two and he organises favela tours for curious tourists to dispel the myths surrounding his home but also, he admits, to make a living. He is rightfully proud when he tells me he is not living the life that the favela had planned for him.

Rocinha, Rio Brazil. Obi.
Rocinha, Rio Brazil. Obi.

Lou owns the bar next to our apartment; little more than a shoe-box with a few plastic chairs. We visit her most days, and she cooks us traditional dishes on the house. She wants to make sure we come back. A girl from the favela breaks down on the podium as the home nation win their first gold of the Olympic games. There isn’t a dry eye in the house as we watch Rafaela Silva on the portable television. Lou smiles and tells me, “She’s doing this for all of us. Perhaps we'll matter now.”

- END -

The above was written as my entry for the World Nomads Writing Scholarship, and although I did not win, I was delighted to be shortlisted alongside 20 other budding travel writers. Thank you to World Nomad for the opportunity to take part in this process and to Tim Neville for his very kind words and feedback on my entry. I will take everything you have said on board in my future writting.

I lived and worked in Rocinha during the summer of 2016, and was absolutely blown away, by the pride, aspiration and hope of the people that live there.

I was also shocked at the ignorance and prejudice surrounding the favela in the communities of Brazil and further a field.


While I left the favela some months ago, I will carry a piece of Rocinha in my heart forever which is why some of my fellow volunteers and I are setting up The Favela Foundation.

The Favela Foundation is a UK based not for profit. It will provide financial support and work collaboratively with grassroots organisations in the favelas of Rio to encourage progress and positive change in these challenging environments.

It is our firm belief that access to education and social welfare should not be restrictive.

More from The Favela Foundation:

The Favela Foundation

The Favela Foundation.
It is our belief that access to education and social welfare should be available to everyone wherever they live, and so together, with partners across Brazil, we will work towards a brighter future where there are no boundaries to these opportunities.

Visit Our Website


Support Our Work.
All of the founding trustees lived and worked in the favela, and have each pledged to fundraise over the next 12 months to help launch The Favela Foundation. Next up, Patrick, who is taking part in the Great North Run on the 10th September.
Support Our Work

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Between The Wars.
Life in the worlds largest favela carries on amongst the chaos. My shortlisted entry for the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship about living and working in the land the Google maps forgot.
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14 Comments on “

  1. What a great entry! And congratulations for making the top 20 (there’s definitely a reason why you did!). I love the descriptions of you winding along the streets and the people you’ve met. I’ve no doubt that you have great memories from Rocinha.

  2. The travel blogosphere being what it’s become, it’s delightful to come across a thoughtful post about a place and your time in it. Thank you.

  3. A really wonderfully written piece and certainly, I’d be very interested to see how good the winning entry must have been! Nevertheless, you really have to had it to people who maintain their dignity living in very trying conditions, particularly someone like Obi who has even managed to make something of his life. Am I correct in saying that gentleman (Obi?) has got the favela tattooed on his arm?

    1. Hi Gareth, thank you so much for your kind words. You are correct, Obi has Rocinha tattooed on his arm. He is so very proud of who he is and where he is from. A real inspiration, and (although he would hate me saying it) a really sweet guy.

  4. Congratulations on being shortlisted! Your piece was truly moving and made me feel like I was there alongside you. Good luck with setting up your foundation!

  5. Thank you for sharing this, it is eye-opening and very well written. Not surprised that you made it to the top 20 🙂 Love that you guys are setting up the Favela Foundation, such a great project!

  6. Hi, I really loved your post. It’s a real eye-opener, it’s interesting and something different for once. So great you made it into the top 20! It is important to write articles like yours to testify of the conditions in which some people have to live and also to speak about those who still have their dignity and want to make something of their lives.

  7. Sure enough google seems to have forgotten to map this place. Kudos to you for helping out here. It definitely needs some attention. Reading this brings out the harsh realities of life and that is quite important.

  8. Man, just as I was getting all into your experience living in Rocinha, you end it right there. I visited there on a half day tour back in 2014 when the World Cup was going on. It was an interesting look into every day life in Rocinha, but I would have loved to have read more about your experiences with the people you befriended when you worked there for a few months. Well written post!

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