The 12-year-old Syrian refugee longingly peered inside a fitness center in Turkey, wearing open sandals in January. With his scuffed shoeshine box slung over his shoulder, the boy surveyed the weights, cardio machines and a flat-screen television inside.
He was daydreaming about losing weight as he watched the gym members exercise, he told the Turkish newspaper Daily Saba.
Adıyaman’da Olimpiyat Spor Merkezi, bu fotoğraftaki çocuğu arıyor. Ömür boyu üyelik hediye edeceklerini açıkladılar. pic.twitter.com/KK9i6LhqF9
— Tribun Dergi (@tribundergi) January 3, 2018
One of the members of the gym, Olympiat Sports Center, which is in Adıyaman, a fast-growing city in southeastern Turkey, snapped a photo of the boy and posted it on Instagram. Social media took note, as did body builder and gym owner Mustafa Kucukkaya.
Kucukkaya reposted on his own Instagram, with a message that read: “When we see the photo, we are very touched as a sports family.” He asked people to help find the boy.
Days later, someone spotted him nearby shining shoes, according to the Daily Saba. Kucukkaya offered him a lifetime membership.
Soon after, photos of the boy working out made the rounds on social media.
— Doğan Haber Ajansı (@dhainternet) January 8, 2018
The boy, identified as Mohammed Hussein, lives with his family, which makes a living selling scrap paper and metal collected from trash bins, according to BuzzFeed.
Kucukkaya, who also grew up poor, said many have reached out to him with offers to help Mohammed’s family.
According to the United Nations, more than 13 million Syrian refugees needed humanitarian aid in 2016 because of crisis and war in the country. About 5 million refuges sought asylum outside Syria.
“Some rich businessmen called,” Kucukkaya told BuzzFeed. “A rich businesswoman from Ankara called and said she will send a package to his house. Even a person from Qatar called.”
Syrian refugee and shoeshine boy Muhummad Hussein earned a lifetime membership at a Turkish gym after a photo of him went viral. https://t.co/7pJ1bjJZof
— Twitter Moments (@TwitterMoments) January 9, 2018
Kucukkaya said when he offered Mohammed the membership, Mohammed had no idea the photo of him at the window had gone viral. Kucukkaya said Mohammed seems to be having fun at the gym, and called him “a lovable kid.”