1. This heartbreaking photo of a Syrian man selling pens in Lebanon while carrying his young daughter went viral this week, prompting a global search for the photo’s subject and an outpouring of support that he told BuzzFeed News has left him stunned.
2. After the photo of him went viral, the internet managed to track down Abdul Haleem al-Kader. A Palestinian-Syrian refugee, the single father formerly lived in the Yarmouk refugee camp with his daughter, 4-year-old Reem, and son, 9-year-old Abdullelah.
Yarmouk is a mostly Palestinian refugee camp near the Syrian capital of Damascus that has played host to nearly 150,000 refugees since it was established in 1957. For months during the country’s ongoing civil war, the camp was under siege, receiving next to no food or humanitarian aid. Earlier this year, the camp was under attack yet again, this time from ISIS.
3. Kader told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview that he first left Syria four years ago with his wife and two children, moving to live in Egypt. His wife insisted they return to Syria, then left Kader and the children when he refused.
“I had nothing to do in Syria anymore, since the chocolate factory that I used to work in before is closed,” he told BuzzFeed News. “Some of my friends told me, ‘Why not go to Lebanon and try there.’”
Though he was looking to work in a chocolate factory in Lebanon as well, none were hiring. “So I have no other options to feed my kids but selling stuff in the streets.”
4. The photos were tweeted by Gissur Simonarson, founder of the website Conflict News, which draws content from conflict zones around the world. When he spoke to BuzzFeed News from Norway, Simonarson said he knew that the photos would draw a response.
“I talked to the guy I got the photo from, but he wasn’t the original photographer,” Simonarson said. “We haven’t been able to find the original person who took the photos yet.”
“Conflict News has pretty good reach — I thought i might be able to locate him,” Simonarson said. So he set up the Twitter handle @Buy_Pens, urging @conflict’s 64,000 followers to aid in the search.
5. After an initial false start, two Twitter followers managed to locate Kader based on the retweets of the original photo.
6. With this information in hand, Simonarson opted to launch an IndieGogo campaign with the hope of raising $5,000 for the family. In less than 24 hours, it had already raised more than $50,000.
8. “I don’t need money. All I want is to educate my kids,” Kader repeatedly told BuzzFeed News, “send them to school, help them to get their education.”
“I hope I can take the kids and live in Europe,” he continued. “There they will have a much better chance for a good education. I really hope I can do that.”
“If not, plan B will be opening a chocolate shop in Lebanon.”
Simonarson says that he’s currently working with UNICEF, the U.N.’s children’s agency, to figure out the best way to turn over the funds raised for Abdul and his family. BuzzFeed News has reached out to UNICEF to talk about Kader and his family and will update once they respond.
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