Nearly $100,000 raised after heartbreaking photo of refugee dad selling pens goes viral

The photos that went viral of Abdul selling pens with four-year-old daughter sleeping on his shoulder.
The photos that went viral of Abdul selling pens with four-year-old daughter sleeping on his shoulder.TWITTER

BEIRUT (REUTERS) - An online fund-raiser has raised more than US$67,800 (S$95,000) for a refugee from Syria and his daughter after a campaigner based in Norway shared moving pictures on social media of the man selling pens in the streets of Beirut.

Gissur Simonarson, founder of Conflict News, posted the pictures on Tuesday and was flooded with requests to help the man, a Palestinian from the devastated Yarmouk refugee camp on the southern outskirts of Damascus.

The pictures showed Abdul Haleem al-Kader, a single father of two, holding up pens on a roadside in Lebanon's capital, his four-year-old daughter Reem asleep on his shoulder, according to Simonarson's funding page.

A subsequent online campaign, which had initially aimed to raise US$5,000, collected as much as US$67,800 in 24 hours according to the page.

"It's nice to see people come together and make a difference in another person's life," Simonarson wrote.


Lebanon is home to well over one million refugees from Syria's war next door and such scenes are common in Beirut.

Young refugee children sell flowers, packs of tissues or offer to shine shoes for a small sum.

According to Buzzfeed News, Kader first left Syria four years ago with his wife and two children, moving to live in Egypt. His wife insisted they return to Syria, then left Kader and the children when he refused.

"I had nothing to do in Syria anymore, since the chocolate factory that I used to work in before is closed," he told BuzzFeed in a phone interview.

"Some of my friends told me, 'Why not go to Lebanon and try there.'"

Though he was looking to work in a chocolate factory in Lebanon as well, none were hiring.

"So I have no other options to feed my kids but selling stuff in the streets."

Simonarson told Buzzfeed he knew his photos would draw a response.

"I talked to the guy I got the photo from, but he wasn't the original photographer," Simonarson said.

"We haven't been able to find the original person who took the photos yet."

"Conflict News has pretty good reach - I thought i might be able to locate him," Simonarson said.

So he set up the Twitter handle @Buy_Pens, urging @conflict's 64,000 followers to aid in the search.

After an initial false start, two Twitter followers managed to locate Kader based on the retweets of the original photo.

With this information in hand, Simonarson opted to launch an IndieGogo campaign with the hope of raising US$5,000 for the family.

In less than 24 hours, it had already raised more than US$50,000, said Buzzfeed.

"I was surprised to know that people abroad heard about my story and care about my kids," Kader told BuzzFeed. "I couldn't hold my tears. I kept saying, 'Thank god, thank god,' and hugging my kids."

"I don't need money. All I want is to educate my kids," Kader said, "send them to school, help them to get their education."

"I hope I can take the kids and live in Europe," he continued.

"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."

Simonarson is reportedly working with Unicef, the UN's children's agency, to figure out the best way to turn over the funds raised for Abdul and his family.