Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Online Push Gives Syria Refugee Reboot in Lebanon

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Online Push Gives Syria Refugee Reboot in Lebanon

Article excerpt

BEIRUT - Abdul Halim al-Attar, a refugee from Syria who was photographed selling pens in the streets of Beirut, is now running three businesses in the city after an online crowdfunding campaign in his name collected $191,000. The 33-year-old father of two opened a bakery two months ago and has since added a kebab shop and a small restaurant to his business venture. He employs 16 Syrian refugees.

The photograph of al-Attar carrying his sleeping daughter on his shoulder while trying to sell pens to passing motorists in the scorching heat went viral this past summer and touched people across the world.

One of those moved by his plight was an online journalist and web developer in Norway, Gissur Simonarson, who created a Twitter account under the name @buypens and an Indiegogo campaign to raise $5,000 for al-Attar and his family. When it closed three months later, the campaign had collected almost forty times more: $188,685. Another $2,324 in donations has trickled in since then.

"Not only did my life change, but also the lives of my children and the lives of people in Syria whom I helped, he said. Al-Attar said he gave away about $25,000 to friends and relatives in Syria.

Al-Attar also quickly built a better life for himself and his family in Beirut. His wife returned to Syria and they are currently separated.

In addition to the food businesses, al-Attar moved his children from the one bedroom that they all shared to a two-bedroom apartment in an unfinished building overlooking the highway in southern Beirut. The apartment is noisy and sparse, but 4-year-old Reem, who was draped over her father's shoulder in the viral photo, proudly displays her new toys: plastic kitchenware, a swing and a stuffed bear that seems to be her favorite. Her brother, 9-year-old Abdullelah, is back in school after three years of absence.

For al-Attar, it's a long way from Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp on the southern edge of Damascus where he was employed at a chocolate factory. …

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