Published On: November 2, 2012

Curitibano Model

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The stories of lives ruined by drugs are too numerous to contemplate, but perhaps none are more surprising than the story of Rafael Nunes da Silva. Rafael, 30, a Curitiba resident, had a successful career as a male model before slipping into the downward spiral of drug abuse that eventually led him to crack cocaine addiction. He has been in and out of rehab but nothing, until now, has been able to save him. He is homeless and living on the streets of Curitiba.

Social media sites, like Facebook and YouTube, have turned many anonymous people into over-night media sensations, and that is happening to Rafael now. This sensation started on Facebook with a series of photos dubbed “Ridiculously Photogenic” — first of a a man running a marathon, then a woman after surgery, etc. Recently, a tourist snapped a photo of Rafael in front of the Catedral Basílica Menor de Nossa Senhora da Luz in Curitiba and his picture, wrapped in a blanket — the homeless uniform — went viral.

The Cathedral, one of Curitiba’s oldest and largest, sits at the head of Praça Tiradentes, which happens to be the launching point of the Linha tourist bus line. The small park in front of the cathedral is a frequent gathering place for the homeless, affording them access to kind tourist handouts. One such tourist was impressed with the contrast of Rafael’s striking good looks and his obvious homeless status and posted his photo on Facebook. The photo has since gone viral with tens of thousands of shares.

Rafael Nunes da Silva: Before/After

The only aspect of the story that isn’t surprising is how a homeless man could be so photogenic – for years Rafael had been making a living as a male model. He was discovered by Irene Valenga, owner of a modeling agency in Curitiba when he was 20 years old. However, after five years of modeling success, his life seemed to fall apart.

By the age of 25, he was no longer able to control himself, according to his mother, housewife Edit da Silva, 57, who still lives in the Curitiba metro area. She witnessed the devastating effect of drugs on her son’s life and has been forced to watch him slip slowly away. Several times she and her other sons, Rafael has three brothers, have been able to get Rafael into a hospital for rehab. However, as any addiction counselor can attest, rehab for an addiction – drugs, alcohol, gambling – only works if the addict wants to change. Unfortunately, this has not yet happened for Rafael. His stays in rehab have not lasted longer than ten days. According to his mother, Rafael’s dream was not to become a model, but to study engineering.

Finally about a year ago, Rafael left home, unable to fight his craving for crack. Since then, he has been living on the streets of Curitiba. Occasionally, he still visits his mother and father, and they welcome him home, where he showers, gets clothes, and reports that he’s okay. Questioned by his family as to why he continues to live on the streets, “He says his life is free, he can do what he wants without being bothered,” says his mother.

Since achieving Facebook fame, his family and friends report that Rafael has been in hiding, avoiding the news crews that have picked up on his unexpected rise to homeless fame. His family still has hope that Rafael will eventually return to rehab.

{Research from Folha.com and Daily Mail online}

 [Photo credit: Agência Mundo Model Curitiba/Facebook-Indy Zanardo]

 

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