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Western University student will swim across Lake Ontario to raise money for Syrian refugees

Victor Lal, Founder of Canadians for Syria, will swim across Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto.
Victor Lal, Founder of Canadians for Syria, will swim across Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto. Max Horne

A Western University student is taking on a second athletic charitable endeavour for Syrian refugees.

After completing a bike ride from Toronto to St. John’s to raise money for his charity Canadians for Syria in 2017, 21-year-old Victor Lal has set his sights on a new challenge.

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Lal will swim across Lake Ontario Saturday. His goal is to raise $60,000 to sponsor the resettlement of two Syrian families in Canada.

“Both my parents were refugees from Poland, so this definitely comes from a personal place,” said Lal. “There were Canadians who helped sponsor them and bring them to Canada.”

“I’ve always felt that I needed to do something to pay that kindness forward,” he said.

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While swimming isn’t anything new to Lal, he said swimming the 52 kilometres across the Great Lake is going to be a challenge.

“I’ve spent a lot of my life in the water. I’d did competitive swimming when I was younger, my mom taught me to swim when I was two,” said Lal. “For the past year I’ve been specifically training for this [swim] and I’ve been basically living in the water.”

“Especially over the last couple of months, as soon as the water got warm enough to swim in I was swimming in Lake Ontario, getting used to the cold.”

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This is Lal’s second athletic pursuit through his charity.

After he started the charity last summer with the idea of gathering Canadians together to sponsor a Syrain refugee family of five, he needed a way to drum up support and to draw attention to his cause.

“I did a bike ride from Toronto to the easternmost point of Canada, just outside St. John’s, Newfoundland,” he said.

That 24-day, 2,600-kilometre bike ride raised $30,000, enough to help resettle a Syrian family of five in Ontario.

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The family was expected to arrive in July, but the process has taken a little longer than originally thought.

“[They have to] go through the whole application and get through all of the secondary requirements,” said Lal. “But, they’re now at a point where they’ve passed all the medical checks, all the government checks. Hopefully, we’re going to be able to get them into Canada in the next month.”

WATCH: Left in Lebanon: Syrian family trying to reunite with refugee brother

Left in Lebanon: Syrian family trying to reunite with refugee brother
Left in Lebanon: Syrian family trying to reunite with refugee brother

After he finished the bike ride, more families wanted his charity’s help to escape the turmoil in the Middle East and resettle in Canada.

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That’s when Lal thought of the swim.

“The bike ride was definitely a challenge in and of itself, but as soon as we started thinking about raising more money and getting a bit more attention to the cause, I knew the challenge would have to be bigger,” he said.

Lal is aiming to finish the swim from Niagara-on-the Lake to Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto in 20 to 24 hours.

Lal is a business student at Western. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in refugee studies.

“I want to get into refugee policy and try and specifically tackle this issue of ‘how do we help people who cannot go back home?'”

To learn more about Lal’s charity or to donate click here.

— With files from Sara Cain