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.
One of those moved by al-Attar’s plight was an online journalist and web developer in Norway, Gissur Simonarson, who created a Twitter account 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.
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. The camp is now devastated by fighting.
Getting the funds to al-Attar has been a struggle. So far he has only received 40 percent of roughly $168,000, after Indiegogo and Paypal took out about $20,000 in processing and banking fees. PayPal does not operate in Lebanon, so at the moment the cash is brought over to Lebanon bit-by-bit by a friend of the campaign who can make withdrawals in Dubai.
Despite his frustration and the uncertainty about when and whether he’ll receive the rest of his money, al-Attar feels grateful. He sported a T-shirt reading “Stay positive,” and a large smile. “When God wants to grant you something, you’ll get it,” he said.
“Seeing that he opened a restaurant and his kids look well taken care of, I’m really happy,” Simonarson said in a phone interview from Oslo.