This year the world has the opportunity to keep more children safe. Together we can help children realise their rights, fulfil their potential and protect them from violence and danger. How the world looks tomorrow is dependent on how children grow up today - and the time to act is now, we haven't a moment to lose.
In 2014, the fourth year of the conflict in Syria, a bleak humanitarian situation deteriorated even further. To date, there have been over 200,000 fatalities and one million casualties. Three million people have sought refuge across borders and more than seven million people have been displaced. More than half of the country's population - including five million children - require some form of humanitarian aid. Not only has violence increased, but access to aid has also been restricted. Needs are greater than ever but the aid system is not meeting them. Today, Syria remains the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world.
Out of the 300 million odd people living in the region, I understand my small sample of friends cannot be taken as a final representation of the Middle East. Nor do I want to gloss over the fact that thousands have been killed and millions have been made homeless. This we cannot forget and maybe, quite rightly, the media aren't letting us.
It's a bicycle. The only thing I see under the stairs of one small home in the Gaza strip. A girl's small blue bicycle. A bit battered, had seen better days, but just a bicycle. Ahmad*, whose home it is, continues to point at it. I'm thoroughly bewildered. He stares at the bicycle. Then sits down heavily and starts speaking in slow, measured tones...
I do not want to sound cynical in suggesting that human life has a price. It is priceless as far as I am concerned. But this is a world that is not of my making. It operates according to rules that are sometimes quite absurd, and whether we agree or not, there is a societal consensus that human life, too, has a price.
The first amendment in the United States is a wonderful thing. It means you can say whatever you like about anything... But with the increasing popularity of Facebook comment section fights, and chatroom brawls, I'm seeing more and more often that people seem to forget that freedom of speech goes both ways.
Studying constantly with fear of failure, late nights working the same shifts as the signer on television, living in squalid dwellings with landlords who may well be the offspring of Hitler and his one testicle, and constantly finding yourself scraping ancient coco-pops from a mouldy bowl whilst washing the five thousands dishes, is a tough life.
During the course of my humanitarian work in Syria, I have listened to many children share their perspectives. The death of family members, whether siblings or a parent or other loved one is common. Being displaced from their homes, often more than once, and finding their friends and communities snatched away. Memories of repeated attacks from warring parties that flattened whole neighborhoods, fires that raged through the night stay with them.
Improving quality in Pakistan would also be a huge breakthrough. In rural areas many primary schools lack sufficient classrooms to provide a proper five year cycle: In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for example, more than half of the schools do not contain the requisite 5 classrooms (one per grade). If you were a parent, would you send your children to school, and keep them there, if school conditions meant that your children were unlikely to learn the basics?
Really?! The joy of being misunderstood? Yes, bare with me for a second and just keep reading. Misunderstandings can be like sharing your home with a stranger: awkward, uncomfortable and frustrating. Even worse, when the stranger is supposed to be your best friend, parent or partner, and the intimate space is your relationship. No joy yet.