Kristi Henderson
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Senior co-authors book depicting favela of Brazil

Wed, 08/22/2012

Sarah Stern

More Information

LAWRENCE – After a whirlwind of quick travel plans, Sarah Stern, a senior in Latin American studies and journalism at the University of Kansas, found herself in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2011. The trip was planned on short notice after deciding to visit the Latin American country and document the community of the Rocinha favela.

Her trip with a professional international photographer produced a book, "Favela da Rocinha, Brazil," which is making its Lawrence debut this Saturday.

Stern completed the book with Gary Mark Smith, a two-time American Photo Magazine International Competition winner and KU alumnus who has been a full-time international photographer since 1978. Stern, who has known Smith since high school, said they both share a love of traveling, adventure and the global aspect of photography.

The book, featuring 130 photographs, focuses on Rocinha and its cultural significance as Brazil emerges as a world power and prepares for the international spotlight from hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Along with the photographs, the book features essays by Smith and Stern to share their personal perspective on the experience in the favela.

La Favela da Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, located on a hill looking down on the city. Favelas are neighborhoods or areas of large cities in Brazil that house many of the nation's poorest residents.

"[The trip] was really powerful," Stern said. "I just thought, 'I can't believe I'm here. I'm never going to forget this place or this experience.'"

The reception will take place from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire. The opening will feature Brazilian cuisine and live bossa nova music, and it is open to the public.

The book is for sale online at, around the Lawrence community, including at the Raven Book Store, 6 E. Seventh St., and in Rio de Janeiro. Proceeds from the book will go toward free art classes for the underserved youth of the favela. Smith plans to travel back to Rocinha to teach these art classes.

Stern's book depicts the favela right before the pacification movement by the Brazilian government, documenting the still gang-controlled area during a three-week period in June 2011. In the weeks after Stern's trip, the government, with its eye on the upcoming international events, made moves to bring order and end the gang-fueled violence on the streets of favelas such as Rocinha as the beginning of the ongoing pacification plan.

Stern said she wants the book to convey the real life of the community, beyond the headlines of gangs and violence in the news. She said she hopes the book paints an accurate picture of the community for readers.

While the book provides a journey to a foreign place for readers unfamiliar with Rocinha, it also provides the people of Rocinha with a symbol of their home. Stern said that when Smith took the book to Rocinha to show the residents, the reaction was largely positive.

"People were thrilled," Stern said. "We got such positive feedback from the community. People could look at it and really take pride in their community."

Stern was named a Top Ten College Woman of the Year by Glamour Magazine in 2012 for her photography and work in Latin America. She is a member of the University Honors Program and a KU Global Scholar. She began her own photography business in her mid-teens and has been working as a professional photographer ever since. In the spring of 2012, she participated in a study abroad trip to study micro-loan recipients in Paraguay. Stern will graduate in May 2013.

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