Photo of Syrian refugee selling pens strikes a chord, opens wallets

A photo of Abdul selling pens on a Beirut street.
A photo of Abdul selling pens on a Beirut street. Indiegogo / Global News

TORONTO — Heart-wrenching images of a man selling pens on a Beirut street while holding his young daughter have struck a chord and opened wallets.

Gissur Simonarson, a founder of the website Conflict News who lives in Norway, retweeted the photo after it captured his attention.

“What you see is a man holding his four-year-old daughter on his shoulder, and she’s sleeping and he’s kind of clutching out pens, trying to sell these blue Bic ballpoint pens,” said Simonarson to BBC News.

“It’s just the expression on his face is very touching, and kind of calls out to you. So I figured that sharing this would probably get some attention.”

He was right: before long a search was launched to find the man, a Syrian refugee and single father of two.

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READ MORE: Syrian woman left college to sleep in woods and streets, beg for food to escape war

Simonarson sent another tweet asking for assistance finding the man photographed selling pens, and within 30 minutes he got a response from a Beirut resident who recognized the man from his area. The hashtag added to the tweet, #BuyPens, gained steam.

Simonarson said the response of people wanting to find the father and offer help was “pretty overwhelming”.

The original goal was to raise $5,000 USD to help the man, perhaps buy new clothes and some food. Within half an hour the online fundraising page surpassed that goal. It’s since ballooned to $100,000 and counting.

The page has been updated to show pictures of the man, named Abdul, with his daughter Reem and nine-year-old son Abdelillah.

The three had lived in Yarmouk refugee camp after fleeing Syria, by way of Egypt. Abdul is quoted as saying he wants to send his children to school and help other Syrian refugees with the donated money.

“The response has been overwhelming so now it looks like, you know, he’ll be able to start a new life even with this money,” said Simonarson. He added he’s been inspired to want to do more and is considering another campaign to help more refugees in some way.

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