How a father’s struggle on the streets of Beirut sparked a global outpouring

How a father’s struggle on the streets of Beirut sparked a global outpouring

Pictures of Abdul Halim Attar have been making the rounds of Twitter.

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 They show him visibly distressed on the streets of Beirut holding his exhausted daughter, Reem, over his shoulder with one hand while trying to sell a number of cheap pens with the other. Mr Attar is a Palestinian refugee from Yarmouk in Syria. The UN estimates by the end of the year, Lebanon will be home to nearly 1.9 million Syrian refugees who – just like Mr Attar – will be desperate for support. Among those who saw the image was Iceland’s Gissur Simonarson, who runs the news website, Conflict News. With the help of a few contacts he managed to track Mr Attar down. It was here he decided to launch a crowfunding campaign to raise $7,000 in 15 days to help Mr Attar. The target was reached in just 30 minutes, and it’s still climbing. “I am surprised that it got such an unbelievable amount of attention,” Mr Simonarison told the BBC. “It’s all happened so fast it’s difficult to recognise what’s going on. The money is going to be huge, it’s gone to a whole other level.”The next stepWith more than four million Syrians having fled their homeland, Mr Simonarson said he had to consider whether all of the money should go to one man. “People have sent this money to go to this man, I feel like it would be wrong to say, ‘I’m going to take this chunk for here and this chunk for here’,” he said. “I don’t know if giving him the cash up front is the best idea, I’m no expert in this. I’ve been thinking about setting up a fund instead, so he gets some sort of monthly allowance.” Mr Simonarson said he was hopeful a Lebanese activist who helped him find Mr Attar could step in to help. Like most people who set up crowdfunding accounts, he has next to no fundraising experience. Cash campaigns going viralIn recent months, similar accounts have been set up where vast sums of cash have poured in unexpectedly. In June, a campaign to help Greece pay off its debts raised more than $3 million. In February, a British beautician tried to raise $1,100 for an elderly man who was mugged. By the time she closed it, the total had exceeded $720,000. Mr Simonarson admitted at some point he would have to reconsider giving all the money to Mr Attar. If it reached half a million, he said directing some of it to related charities would be a wise move. When Mr Attar found out what happened he burst into tears. He said he wanted to use the money to put his two daughters through school and to help other Syrian refugees. The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees said nearly $7.9 billion was needed to help those who’ve fled Syria and the countries hosting them. Less than a quarter of that has been received. But Mr Simonarson hoped the goodwill shown towards Mr Attar will become evident in the region’s many refugee camps. “Sometimes you need a spark to ignite people’s inner compassion and then take it further to help more people,” he said.