Student undertakes a big ride for Syrian refugees

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Photo: Ruby Pratka

Victor Lal, the son of Polish refugees, is paying it forward by helping raise funds to sponsor a Syrian family with a two-year-old son, who are currently living in a Jordanian refugee camp. Lal was in Quebec City on June 25, and is being billeted in people’s homes along the way.

Victor Lal could be doing anything with his summer. The 20-year-old University of Western Ontario student could have easily chosen to spend the next few months sitting on a beach and biking a few kilometres a day for fun. But this summer is different.

“Last summer I did a banking internship and I loved it, but I didn’t feel like I was actually helping anyone, and if I’m not helping people, I’m not going to be satisfied. This project was something I felt I had to do.”

“This project” is an epic bike ride – as much as 150 kilometres per day, from Toronto to St. John’s, on a mission to help Syrian refugees. Lal expects to arrive in Newfoundland in mid-July.

His goal is to raise $30,000 to allow the Islamic Foundation of Toronto to sponsor a Syrian refugee family. “If we could involve a larger group of people [to raise the money], where everyone could give a little, that would be great.

The bike ride … is kind of crazy, but a lot of people think, ‘If Victor’s doing that, I can at least contribute a few dollars.’”

Lal is concerned that Canadians are becoming less conscious of the ongoing crisis which arose shortly after the Syrian Civil War began, in 2011. The rise of ISIS has only accelerated it. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 12 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes, and more than six million have become refugees outside the country. Canada has taken in just over 40,000.

“Canada has done our fair share, but we can do more. Syrians still need help. Syrian refugees are not a threat,” Lal adds. “They aren’t going to come here and take advantage of the Canadian system or ‘steal’ jobs. Many of the refugees were middle-class professionals in Syria…. When they come, they work and they contribute.”

Lal is the son of Polish refugees who settled in Toronto during the Cold War. “They left Poland illegally, looking for a better life…. It was really their inspiration [that gave me the idea for the trip]. As the son of people who were helped by Canadians… I’m paying it forward.”

Lal hopes that Canada will continue its relatively welcoming ways, even as some other countries try to slam their own doors shut. “When we see other countries talking about limiting numbers and putting up boundaries, Canada needs to be the country that says, ‘If you’re willing to contribute to our society and you want to live in a safe country, then we want you.’”

When he returns to Toronto, Lal plans to continue raising awareness of the crisis and get involved in the day-to-day work of sponsoring a family. He would also like to assist more people if possible.

“Since I started, I’ve been getting messages from people who are actually in the Middle East, saying, ‘Sir, can you help me?’ It’s been extremely difficult to say, ‘I’m sorry, but we can only do so much.’”

The family that Lal and the Islamic Foundation have chosen for sponsorship is a family of five from Aleppo, currently living in a Jordanian refugee camp. Their youngest child is a two-year-old boy. “He was born into the conflict and he hasn’t known any other life.” Lal hopes his work will allow the boy’s parents to provide him with the same education and opportunity that Lal himself received in Canada.

“Hopefully we will raise the $30,000 to sponsor the family... Also, hopefully this ride will serve as a reminder that this crisis is still affecting millions, and a reminder that Canadians are a welcoming people. If they can welcome me into their homes, they can welcome Syrian refugees.”

At press time, Lal had raised $11,000 of his $30,000 goal. To contribute to his project and learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis and Canada’s response, visit www.canadiansforsyria.org