How a Viral Photo Changed the Life of a Syrian Refugee

Syrian Refugee Lebabon Beirut
The photo of Abdul and his daughter which went viral on social media this week, prompting many to donate to the Syrian refugee.

A crowdfunding campaign raised more than $128,000 for Syrian refugee Abdul Haleem al-Kader after a moving photo of him selling pens on the streets of Beirut with his daughter went viral this week.

Kader, whose name translates from Turkish to English as "destiny," currently lives in Lebanon, having moved there from Egypt and before that the Palestinian-Syrian Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, which was recently besieged by ISIS. Kader told Buzzfeed News he left Syria four years ago after his chocolate shop there closed. Eventually his wife moved back to Egypt and Kader left for Lebanon, but could not find a job there. He resorted to selling products on the street to feed his two children, nine-year-old Reem (pictured sleeping in the photo) and four-year-old Abdelilah.

The photo of Kader, taken by an as-yet unidentified photographer, was uploaded to social media on Tuesday, where it was discovered and shared by Gissur Simonarson, founder of Conflict News, a website that collates updates from different conflicts around the world. Simonarson asked his 6,000-odd Twitter followers to help locate Kadar. Someone responded within 30 minutes, Simonarson tells Newsweek, though it took additional contacts on the ground to pin down Kader's identity.

UPDATE: @aboyosha3homs has located the man and his daughter. We are looking to get his whatsapp number now! #BuyPens

— #BuyPens (@Buy_Pens) August 27, 2015

People who identified Kader in Beirut bought a phone for him and messaged Simonarson on Twitter. Once Kader had been located, Simonarson created a new project on crowdfunding platform IndieGogo with an initial goal of raising $5,000 for the Kader family. He also created a Twitter account and hashtag—#BuyPens.

Have now set up @Buy_Pens. Will DM all followers once the man has been found with a way you can help. #BuyPens

— Gissur Simonarson 🇮🇸🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 (@GissiSim) August 26, 2015

As of Saturday afternoon, more than $128,000 had been raised for Abdul and his family through IndieGogo. Simonarson says he is working with refugee agencies such as UNICEF on how to best transfer the money to Kader and his family without endangering their lives in the Lebanese capital.

"He's living in the ghetto, in a horrible part of town in a horrible apartment," says Simonarson. "We have had UNICEF contact us and they are going to help us get one of their refugee protection agents to help get him into a safe area."

Kader, for his part, is pleased that his story has had an impact. "I was surprised to know that people abroad heard about my story and care about my kids," he told BuzzFeed. "I couldn't hold my tears, I kept saying 'thank god, thank god' and hugging my kids."

Kader told Simonarson that he wants to use the final amount raised—there are 14 days remaining in the campaign—to help others as well. "After seeing so many horrible refugee stories, it's just so nice to see a positive refugee story," Simonarson says. "What I imagine is that next time this could lead to helping a whole refugee camp—meet some of the people, take some photos, introduce their stories and do a money bomb on a refugee camp and replicate this."