Photo of Syrian refugee selling pens to feed his young daughter sparks $100K fundraiser

Thousands of people from around the world are donating to help a Syrian man photographed selling pens in Beirut make a better life for his family.

Thousands have now donated money to help a Syrian man photographed selling pens in Beirut

Photo of Syrian refugee selling pens sparks $100K fundraiser

7 years ago
Duration 2:46
Image of single father trying to sell pens while holding his sleeping daughter draws outpouring of support online

The life of a single father, who just three days ago was spotted selling pens in the streets of Beirut to feed his tired young daughter, has been forever changed thanks to a single photograph.

Abdul Halim Attar is a Palestinian-Syrian refugee living in Lebanon with his nine-year-old son Abdelillah and his four-year-old daughter Reem.

A chocolate factory worker before the civil war broke out in his country, Attar reportedly lived with his family at the embattled Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus before fleeing three years ago. He is one of 1.1 million refugees from Syria who currently reside in Lebanon.

Attar sells blue-capped pens on the streets of Beirut to support his children, and it was while doing this very thing on Tuesday than an Icelandic web developer named Gissur Simonarson took pictures of him and tweeted them out to his followers.

The image of a distressed-looking dad trying to sell pens with a sleeping child draped over his shoulder struck a chord online, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of times Simonarson's photos have now been shared.

A few hours after publishing his original tweet, Simonarson sent out a followup post with the same images and a request: "Gotten a lot of requests to help this man and his daughter. Anyone know people in Beirut able to locate him? #BuyPens"

Helpful contacts emerged within just 30 minutes, and with the help of local activists, news reporters, and a Twitter user who lives in the same area as Attar, Simonarson was able, by Thursday, to both find the man and launch a campaign aimed at assisting his family.

The @Buy_Pens Twitter account has been providing real-time updates since Simonarson set out to find Attar, and many on Twitter have been using the #BuyPens hashtag to show support, share information and suggest ways to help the family.

Simonarson opened up an Indiegogo campaign on Thursday with the hopes of raising $5,000 US to "help Abdul and Reem start a new life."

Just over 24 hours later, the fundraiser had surpassed $100,000 in donations.

An Indiegogo campaign set up to help the family of Syrian refugees reached its $5,000 goal in less than 30 minutes. (Indiegogo/Screenshot)

The fundraiser's page has been updated several times since it took off to include more information about the family as it becomes available.

The most recent update came after Lebanese journalist and socio-political activist Carol Malouf, who runs an aid organization for refugees in Lebanon, went to visit Attar and Reem at home.

"Carol Malouf has now met with Abdul," reads a portion of the update. "He told her that he wants to help other Syrian refugees with this money, and send his children to school =)"

Malouf also shared several photos and pieces of information about the family on Twitter after their meeting.

When asked about how Attar had reacted when told about the fundraising campaign, Malouf told one of her followers that he only said "I want to help other Syrians."

Later, she uploaded a video of him speaking to her about his dream of going back to Syria, "to the way things were."

"I was surprised to know that people abroad heard about my story and care about my kids," the dedicated dad told BuzzFeed News during an interview Friday. "I couldn't hold my tears. I kept saying, 'Thank God, thank God,' and hugging my kids."

While he has been busy dealing with the onslaught of attention that comes with going viral, Attar indicated that his top priority at this point is sending Reem and her brother Abdelillah to school.

"I don't need money. All I want is to educate my kids," he told Buzzfeed. "I hope I can take the kids and live in Europe. There they will have a much better chance for a good education. I really hope I can do that."

"If not, plan B will be opening a chocolate shop in Lebanon."


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