A refugee from the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk in Damascus has received tens of thousands of dollars in donations after a photograph of him selling pens on the streets of Beirut while cradling his young daughter went viral.
The image of Abdul Halim Attar, a single father of two children aged nine and four, was posted online by Icelandic activist Gissur Simonarson on Wednesday. Simonarson decided to track the then-anonymous man down, and by Saturday an IndieGogo fund set up by Simonarson in Attar’s name, along with the Twitter hashtag #BuyPens, had received more than $116,000.
A message posted on the IndieGogo fund-raising page reads: “Carol Malouf (founder of the ‘Lebanese for Refugees’ charity) has now met with Abdul in person at his home… He told her that he wants to help other Syrian Refugees with this money, and send his children to school.”
According to Simonarson, Attar worked at a chocolate factory before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. He, his wife and their two children left Syria for Egypt, but his wife decided to return to Syria, and they separated. Attar then decided to go to Lebanon, where he “has been selling pens and anything else he can to support his children.”
— Carol Malouf Khattab (@carolmalouf) August 28, 2015
“I wanted to do something that could help this one man who is struggling through the world,” said Simonarson, according to Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. “I couldn’t believe what happened next.” Simonarson says he had intended to raise $5,000 to help the family, and met that target in the first 30 minutes of the campaign.
Organizers say the funds would be given to the family via a local refugee charity, possibly in installments, the Telegraph said.
There are more than one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to the UN. In Syria, the residents of Yarmouk have been caught between warring factions as rebels seek to overthrow the regime, often facing starvation as the UN struggled to deliver food aid. The UN’s Palestinian refugee agency says that in 2014, it was only able to distribute an average of 89 boxes of food per day, while to meet the minimum needs of residents, it would have to hand out 400 boxes per day.