Ricardo lives in a favela – a Brazilian shanty town – in Rio.

He used to make hot air balloons for drug dealers. The balloons rise into the air with a tail of fireworks, and when they go off, it’s an incredible display. He’d create them for traffickers that wished to celebrate the birthday of someone who’d been killed, or someone who’d recently been released from jail.

Living in a favela is dangerous, says Ricardo, and creating these displays for drug dealers was tense. So, he found something that would change his life: surfing.

He fell in love with it, and decided to spread that love through a surf school. Now Ricardo teaches anyone who’d like to learn how to surf.

Ricardo’s story is just one of many being told through Google’s Rio: Beyond the Map VR experience. Leveraging the excitement (and perhaps controversy) surrounding the Olympics, Beyond the Map highlights a variety of stories about real people living in Rio’s favelas. Beyond Ricardo, there’s Paloma who wants to study artificial intelligence, Luis who wants to be a dancer, and many others.

Reportedly 1 in 5 residents of Rio de Janeiro live in a favela. And it’s not often that we associate that with positivity and beauty. Favelas are often characterized by the media as hubs for crime, especially drug trafficking, known for their lawlessness and depravity. But the stories Google has chosen to highlight show a different side – one that is perhaps more nuanced and complex.

For the full VR experience, and to check out all of the stories, click here.