#BuyPens: Syrian refugee photographed selling pens to feed children uses crowdfunding to start businesses

Abdul Halim al-Attar is now employing other refugees in the three businesses he started using money raised by well-wishers around the world

A Syrian refugee who was photographed walking the streets of Beirut selling biros to feed his children has used money donated from around the world to employ his fellow asylum seekers.

Abdul Halim al-Attar has been able to set up three businesses in the Lebanese capital using the $191,000 (£127,000) raised by an online crowdfunding campaign.

The 33-year-old father said he was astounded by the outpouring of support after a photo of him selling pens as he carried his sleeping daughter went viral.

Mr al-Attar was not even aware he had been photographed by a passer-by until a member of the public told him the image was spreading around the world.

The photo was first posted on Twitter by Gissur Simonarson, an activist and the founder of Conflict News, who then set up afundraising page to help Abdul and his children start a better life.

When it closed three months later, the campaign had collected almost forty times its original target, raising $188,685 (£125,000), and another £1,540 has poured in since then. 

Mr al-Attar immediately vowed to use the money to help his fellow refugees and has since opened a bakery, kebab shop and restaurant that employ 16 Syrian asylum seekers. 

A Palestinian fighter walks through the rubble of the al-Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, Syria

In an interview with the Associated Press, he said he had also given away about $25,000 (£17,000) to friends and relatives still living in the war-torn country. 

“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.  

“I had to invest the money, otherwise it will be lost…when God wants to grant you something, you'll get it.”

But receiving the funds has been a struggle, with him only collecting 40 per cent of donations so far as PayPay does not operate in Lebanon and the money is being transferred piece by piece by a campaigner in Dubai.

Indiegogo and Paypal also took out about $20,000 (£13,000) in processing and banking fees. 

The money has helped him build a better life for his family in Beirut, moving his children from the one room they all shared to a two-bedroom flat. 

Four-year-old Reem, who was draped over her father's shoulder in the viral photo, has new toys while her nine-year-old brother, Abdullelah, is back in school after three years unable to attend.

Mr al-Attar and his family had been living in Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp on the southern edge of Damascus, where he was employed at a chocolate factory, when the Syrian civil war broke out.

The camp has been devastated by regime bombing and fighting between Isis and militants, forcing thousands of its residents to flee. 

Many left for Lebanon, where there are about 1.2 million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, with two thirds believed to be unemployed.

Mr Al-Attar said he is getting used to his new community, saying Lebanese people and Syrians are more friendly than before. 

“They just greet me better now when they see me. They respect me more,” he said.

Additional reporting by AP