Whoever said that a picture is worth a thousand words was definitely onto something, because a single picture can definitely transform someone’s life forever.
Case in point: Syrian refugee Abdul Halim al-Attar was selling pens on the streets of Lebanon when a bystander captured his picture. The 33-year-old single father, who was carrying his sleeping daughter on his shoulder at the time, became a symbol of the plight of refugees after Norwegian activist and Web developer Gissur Simonarson shared his story on Twitter.
Simonarson also set up a fundraising campaign in the man’s name to help him and his children start a better life with the ultimate goal of $5,000. However, the photo went viral on social media, giving birth to the hashtag #BuyPens, which was widely shared around the world.
Soon, funds from well-wishers came pouring in and three months later, the campaign had collected almost forty times its original target, raising an astounding amount of $191,000.
Al-Attar was astonished by the kindness and generosity of complete strangers. However, instead of using all the money on himself, he decided to put it to good use.
The man who once sold pens on the streets to feed his children has now opened a bakery, a kebab shop and a restaurant in Beirut.
“Not only did my life change, but also the lives of my children and the lives of people in Syria whom I helped,” explained Al-Attar. “I had to invest the money, otherwise it will be lost…when God wants to grant you something, you'll get it.”
He has sent almost $25,000 to his friends and family in Syria and has also hired 16 fellow asylum-seekers as employees in his businesses.
Al-Attar also moved his two children out of the one-bedroom apartment they had been sharing into a new two-bedroom. Four-year old Reem who was sleeping on her father’s shoulder in the viral post now has new toys to show off, while her 9-year-old brother Abdullah is back in school after three years.
However, receiving the funds has not been easy either. So far, he has only been able to collect about 40 percent of the donations because PayPal does not operate in Lebanon. A campaigner in Dubai is transferring al-Attar the money “piece by piece” while Indiegogo and PayPal have already deducted about $20,000 in the name of processing and banking fees.
Al-Attar was one of the lucky people whose life was dramatically changed thanks to the Internet, but there are still tens of thousands of Syrian refugees living the camps in Lebanon, struggling to cope without the basic necessities of life.