Brazil's Favela Tech Boom Young People from Poor Neighborhoods Set Out to Conquer the Digital World

Until recently, residents of poor neighborhoods in Brazil had little access to the digital world. But young people are now finding ways to earn money and recognition, while at the same time escaping their reality in the virtual world.
By Nicola Abé and Kristin Bethge (photos) in Rio de Janeiro
Crypto artist Gean Guilherme Santos Lopes wears a pair of virtual reality googles in Rio de Janeiro's St. Amaro favela.

Crypto artist Gean Guilherme Santos Lopes wears a pair of virtual reality googles in Rio de Janeiro's St. Amaro favela.

Foto: Kristin Bethge
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Luiz Augusto used to hang out with drug dealers. Today, he spends most of his time online, where he has developed a policeman character for gaming.

Luiz Augusto used to hang out with drug dealers. Today, he spends most of his time online, where he has developed a policeman character for gaming.

It's important to Luiz Augusto that his online avatar looks the same as he does. He even paid 300 real (46 euros) for his digital Afro hairstyle.

It's important to Luiz Augusto that his online avatar looks the same as he does. He even paid 300 real (46 euros) for his digital Afro hairstyle.

A street in the Vigario Geral favela

A street in the Vigario Geral favela

The building with the clenched fist on the roof can be seen from far away. It's home to the social enterprise Afro Games.

The building with the clenched fist on the roof can be seen from far away. It's home to the social enterprise Afro Games.

Foto: Kristin Bethge
Music executive Ricardo Chantilly is the founder of Afro Games.

Music executive Ricardo Chantilly is the founder of Afro Games.

Gabriela Evellyn Ferreira, who was good at math in school, succeeded in landing a slot on Afro Games' professional team.

Gabriela Evellyn Ferreira, who was good at math in school, succeeded in landing a slot on Afro Games' professional team.

Gean Guilherme Santos Lopes earns money with his crypto art that he then uses to support the needy in his community.

Gean Guilherme Santos Lopes earns money with his crypto art that he then uses to support the needy in his community.

Foto: Kristin Bethge
As a child, Santos Lopes often couldn’t go to school because gangs and police shot at each other outside. His art is also a way of processing things.

As a child, Santos Lopes often couldn’t go to school because gangs and police shot at each other outside. His art is also a way of processing things.

Foto: Kristin Bethge
The St. Amaro favela is located in Rio de Janeiro. Many lost their jobs here as a result of the crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

The St. Amaro favela is located in Rio de Janeiro. Many lost their jobs here as a result of the crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Foto: Kristin Bethge
Streamer Luiz Augusto didn't get onto Afro Games' professional team, but the social enterprise hired him anyway.

Streamer Luiz Augusto didn't get onto Afro Games' professional team, but the social enterprise hired him anyway.

Afro Games teaches 100 students either programming or how to play "League of Legends."

Afro Games teaches 100 students either programming or how to play "League of Legends."

Luiz Augusto would rather spend 15 hours online than out on the streets.

Luiz Augusto would rather spend 15 hours online than out on the streets.

This piece is part of the Global Societies series. The project runs for three years and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.