Four years ago, Rita Gaviola was a 13-year-old street beggar in the Filipino town of Lucban. Since then she has worked with some of the world’s hottest brands as a fashion model, starred on hit reality TV shows and gained over 100,000 Instagram followers. And it was all thanks to a random photo…
Rita Gaviola’s incredible ‘rags to riches’ story began in 2016. Back then, she was asking for alms on the streets of Lucban, to help her family make ends meet. Her father worked as a garbage collector and her mother stayed home to look after her and her five siblings.
None of the children attended school at the time and the family barely managed to put food on the table, so Rita often went out to beg for change or food donations.
That’s how she was spotted by Filipino photographer Topher Quinto Burgos, who happened to be attending the Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, in May 2016. He was attracted by her natural beauty and posted the photos of her on the internet, changing the girl’s life completely with a single click of the ‘upload’ button.
A photo of the 13-year-old girl went viral almost immediately, with people praising her natural beauty. A member of the Badjao ethnic minority, she was nicknamed “Badjao Girl” and attracted the attention of several Filipino beauty queens, all of whom did their best to help the girl crawl out of poverty.
Celebrities like Miss World Philippines 2015 Hillarie Danielle Parungao, Miss International Philippines 2014 Bianca Guidotti, and Miss Earth 2015 Angelia Ong all took to social media to praise Rita’s model-like physique and striking facial features, and that drew even more attention to the Lucban street beggar.
Before she knew it, the 13-year-old was giving interviews, modelling for various brands, landing small roles in TV series, and becoming one of the youngest people to be on international reality show Big Brother. All the hype around Badjao Girl also helped her build an online audience, including fans from overseas, some of whom helped her and her family financially.
In 2018, Rita Gaviola uploaded a YouTube video showcasing her family’s new house and thanking a certain Grace Kreutzer, a loyal US fan who had reportedly sponsored the construction of the new home.
Even though the hype around her has died down in the last couple of years, she remains very popular on Filipino social media, particularly Instagram, where she has over 100,000 followers. She reportedly still models from time to time, but is currently prioritizing her education.
Rita Gaviola is seen as proof that Cinderella-like stories are possible in real-life, if the stars align perfectly. In Rita’s case, all it took was a photo and her presence in the right place, at the right time.