Different worlds

Think your life is hard? The differences of a high schooler vs. a teenage Syrian refugee


Cortney Chow, Feature Editor

Daily Life of Syrian Refugee Syrian Refugee Teenager: Fatmeh

5: 30am

Fatmeh and her family climb into the back of a truck to harvest vegetables: mainly onions, potatoes, and cucumbers.

7: 35am

Nazir, a Syrian refugee child, is picking potatoes in the fields. Although this is illegal, the foreman of the field, Yassine, prefers younger children because they are faster at collecting.

8: 28am

Fatmeh’s older sister, Bouchra, witnesses a child get hit with “the stick” (a stiff, plastic irrigation hose). This single piece of plastic is a child worker’s worst fear because getting hit humiliates them in front of their family. This seems abusive but the foreman claims that it does not hurt. Apparently, “the stick” is an effective tool to keep children working in the fields if they decide to slow down or space out.

9: 26am

Fatmeh leaves the field after a few hours of work due to exhaustion and illness. Because the Syrian “camps” contain hundreds of thousands of refugees, the food and necessities do not meet all the needs for survival. Additionally, the quality of the food puts refugees at risk of Cholera and Typhoid; both associated with bacterial infection caused by drinking water or eating food contaminated by human feces.


Everyone is still working in fields to pay off the debt they owe to the foreman. The debt is growing because he gives them food and shelter. However, this is not a free exchange. All family members have to work to pay back for their daily necessities.

11:24 a.m.

Syrian refugees are still working and loading vegetables into the truck.

12:21 p.m.

Fatmeh’s only communication to people outside of the camps is her cellphone. She frequently checks the news about Syria and records herself singing songs about her homeland. She, just like many others, wants to return to a Syria with no war…just a place to call home.

1: 53 p.m.

There is only an hour of work left in the fields for the refugees.  Fatigue has settled over the workers but the hope of Syria rebuilding itself keeps the workers motivated to harvest the crops.

3:00 pm

Work is finally over, thankfully, the shift did not extend to 7-8pm. Most refugees work up to 14 hours per day and earn $8 for the days work. Not only is this type of labor illegal, the money earned is never going to put these refugees out of debt. They are working in an endless cycle of labor because the money earned does not cover the price of surviving in the camps. In other words, they have to spend more than they earn.

4:00 p.m.

Despite the condition of living at the camps, a few refugees have brought rays of light into the darkness of the situation. For example, a teacher-turned-refugee has set up classes for refugee children that have been deprived from their education. Additionally, there is sometimes a makeshift beauty parlor and field hospitals. These facilities have provided refugees the services they need and a closer-knit community between the refugees.

5:00 p.m.

It is time for dinner. The refugees eat dinner inside their “homes” made of tarp, plastic sheeting, and little wood. The refugees rely on the foreman to give them food but he charges them on credit at the store, putting them further in debt. Because the international food aid to refugees has been sharply cut, this has made life even more difficult for the refugees.

6:00 p.m.

Some of the children gather to sing together, but they are too young to understand the weight and meaning of the songs. Most of the songs are about the sadness and violence occurring in their homeland. As this happens, Fatmeh is reflecting on her life before the civil war sparked. She longs to go to school, but her strong hope has been unraveled to a single thread after working in the fields for three years. It is not certain if the civil war will come to a close, but it is certain that the number of refugees is mounting every day.


Daily Life of an American Teenager: Jenna Madison

6:00 a.m.

Jenna usually gets up at 6a.m. but sometimes she wakes up earlier if she has to take a test in the morning or do school related things.

7:35 a.m.

She has to be awake and alert for class and finds it refreshing to start the day with IB Spanish because it wakes her up. Because she has so many things to do after 1st hour, she usually thinks about her next task.

8:28 a.m. – 11:24 a.m.

Jenna takes a seminar because she has to leave half way through for a Health Science EFE at  Comstock. EFE is much more professional and it’s more focused on her career; she even gets to go to Bronson and Western. The class is very focused because it’s part of what she wants to do in her life. It’s a difficult class but she enjoys.  By the time she gets back, she hurries to her 5th hour so she won’t be late.

12:21 p.m.

She usually brings lunch from home. Her household definitely has the basic necessities, and if there’s a special occasion she’ll go out to eat luxurious food and celebrate.

12:56 p.m.

This is her most challenging class but definitely likes the challenge. Her teachers are always willing to help, and if she gets to school early for help, they’re always there.

2:50 p.m.

She likes the class as her 7th hour; it’s very interesting. The class analyzes case studies and it’s a good way to end the day.

Jenna on Education:

“We’re very fortunate to live in Portage with a very good education system set in place. I know I personally take it for granted, but it’s nice that the school gives exposure to students about countries that need help, such as 2gether for Tulleni. I actually went on a mission trip to Jamaica and children have to walk miles away just to attend school.”

Jenna on Syrian Refugees:

“I know the U.S. is making a decision whether or not to allow Syrian refugees inside the US or not because America is fearful of terrorism at this moment. The Syrian refugee is very sad and the kids are just kids; they didn’t do anything wrong. They just happen to be born into that specific family and that part of the world. I hope people will give more compassion toward the crisis because most refugees didn’t do anything wrong.”