When a photo of Abdul Halim al-Attar selling pens in Beirut in an effort to feed his family went viral on Twitter, nobody imagined the impact it would have.
He was carrying his sleeping daughter over his shoulder, trying to sell blue pens to passing cars in the searing heat of Beruit, Lebanon. Journalist and web developer Gissur Simonarson, who lives in Norway, saw the photo and put together a campaign called “Buy Pens”, to raise money to help Abdul out.
The crowdfunding campaign raised over $155,000.
Paypal doesn’t operate in Lebanon, so Mr. Attar hasn’t received all of the funds yet. Paypal and Indiegogo took $14000 in processing fees. The rest of the cash is being brought bit by bit to him by a friend living in Dubai, who can withdraw money there.
The money’s been put to excellent use. Mr. Attar used it to start his own business and gave away almost $20,000 to help other Syrian refugees in the area.
“I had to invest the money, otherwise it will be lost,” he explained.
Now, he owns a bakery, kebab shop, and small restaurant, and employs sixteen other Syrian refugees to work for him, lifting other fellow refugees out of poverty.
“Not only did my life change,” Mr. Attar said, “but also the lives of my children and the lives of people in Syria whom I helped.”
His family can now afford to live in a two-bedroom apartment, and his nine-year-old son returned to school after being out of it for three years. Now that he and his family have settled into this new life, he says he feels much more like part of the community, and that the Lebanese and other Syrians alike are much more friendly towards him.
“They just greet me better now when they see me. They respect me more.”
Mr. Attar’s story is not unique. Many refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria just need a hand up in their situation so they can get back on their feet. It’s an amazing example of what we can do to help others when we all work together, and how those small acts of kindness – like starting a crowd-funding campaign, sharing a photo on twitter, or donating $5 to help someone in need – can have a massive impact on the world around us.
Like Mother Teresa said:
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”