Open Letter To Young People Of The UK

frogs-897387_1920Dear Young People of the UK,

There are many benefits to being in the EU, both political and economic. When you go to the polling stations on the 23rd of June, to vote in a referendum that could lead to your leaving the European Union, I’m sure you’ll have these taken into consideration. But I want to talk to you about the benefits that are particularly relevant to us at this particular point in our lives, the ones that fall under a different heading: Adventure. Right now, as I am about to leave school, I am ready to set out, and discover, and explore. I hope you will come with me.

I will go on an adventure this Summer, travelling throughout Europe with my friends. You can do the same. As members of the EU, we don’t need a visa to wander around foreign cities, towns, beaches or countryside. We don’t need papers to see some of humanity’s greatest feats- Greek ruins, Roman Colosseums, Stone Age structures- all monuments to war, peace, discovery, art and the triumphs humans can achieve working together. As part of the EU, these histories and monuments are ours, and we can travel and live among them freely.

My adventure will continue in the autumn, when I hope to go to University. My University will be filled with a diverse group of students from all around the Europe, who will be able to easily live and study abroad in the EU. The Erasmus programe allows many students to study in Europe, and whether you choose to do most of your third level education at home or abroad, you and I will be part of a rich cultural tapestry, and make meaningful connections that will connect us forever to people and places far away.

After University, the scope of the adventure only broadens. We can work, without complications, anywhere we choose. We have the freedom so many young people long for, or desperately need. The freedom to, at any moment, move to another country, to live and work there. Tomorrow we could decide that we want to live in Stockholm, or Paris, or in the Alpes, and we could do it with almost no complications, applications, or paperwork. We could choose to live anywhere, living in a culture, in a history, as somebody who belongs there.

Of course, this freedom works both ways. Those who would like Britain to leave the EU want Britain to have more control over its borders, and reduce the amount of people who come to work there. But the free movement of people and trade in the EU is something that has more benefits than harm. It makes it much easier for Britain to sell things to other EU countries, as well as supplying a stream of young, talented people who will help the economy grow.

Right now there are so many people who have been forced to abandon their homes, who want and need what we have- freedom to roam, travel, live and work in these beautiful, peaceful countries. However, Europe is struggling to accommodate them, often choosing to deny them what they need. Now is not the time to be divided, but to work together to reach a common goal. Our European Adventure should not be experienced at the expense of others.

I am on an adventure- an adventure of discovering new places, and people, and possibilities. But it is also a collective adventure, part of a rich history, that is creating new histories with every decision that we make.Will you decide to join me?

About the author:

Feargha colour

Feargha Clear Keena (18) participated in the Dublin Workshop in 2014. She goes to school at Mount Temple Comprehensive and enjoys playing music, writing songs, and learning foreign languages.

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The story of a Bosnian refugee

Foca - where it all beganThe town Foca

Zerina Karup is a Masters student at Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. She came to Ireland as a refugee when she was a baby. In March, she came to my school (Mount Temple Comprehensive in Dublin) to give a talk about her experience. This talk was organised as part of a series called Temple Tallks by the Mount Temple Amnesty International group.

Zerina was born in what was then Yugoslavia, a country which composed six republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro) and two provinces (Kosovo and Vojvodina). She described her life in a Bosnian town called Foca, with family around, the river nearby…it was a very normal life, which is important to remember.

People don’t leave their countries – their friends and families, traditions and customs – because they want to. They don’t go to a foreign country where they don’t know anyone, and they don’t know the culture, for no reason. People leave because they have to.

She explained a bit of background to the war: “It started in 1991, when countries started to become independent. Slovenia started, then Croatia wanted to become independent. Serbia wanted to form a new country, Greater Serbia. In addition to these different countries, or states within a country, there were also different religions; there were Catholics, Muslims, and Serbian Orthodox. So there was a lot of potential for tension and conflict.” In April 1992, the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina started, and that was when Zerina’s family decided to leave. Initially they stayed within Bosnia, moving from Foca to Gorazde, but quickly realised they still weren’t safe and moved on again. They left just in time; right afterwards, Gorazde became a Serbian enclave (nobody could enter or leave the town; there was no water, no electricity, no food.) They went to Montenegro, and then after a couple of days to Serbia.

It might sound contradictory to go to the country of the aggressors. But in the beginning there was no war in Serbia, so it was safe. Also, Zerina’s family had friends who could accommodate them, because they didn’t have much money. They stayed there for two months, but then Bosnians began to be deported back to Bosnia, into concentration camps. Zerina’s parents decided they were no longer safe, and her family got a bus to Macedonia. At the border, a Serbian soldier checked the bus. Bosnians were brought outside, lined up, and separated into groups of men and women and children. All those people were deported back to Bosnia, to concentration camps. The soldier let Zerina’s family through, telling them it was only because of the young children. They were incredibly lucky.

In Macedonia the family quickly ran out of money, and had to live on the streets. They they weren’t granted refugee status, mainly because there were already too many refugees. However they had met a very kind man, who owned a shop and he gave them milk and breakfast every morning. This man brought them to a house, in a forest in Macedonia, where other Bosnians were living. They stayed there for 25 days before moving on again. They got on another bus and went through Bulgaria and Romania, up to Hungary, to Budapest where they lived on the streets. If they got hold of any money, they went to hostels for homeless people, where their only belongings were stolen one night.

Luckily Zerina’s uncle, who lived in France, was able to send some money so they stayed in a hotel for a few weeks. They then managed to get train tickets to Austria. Despite having no passports, nothing, they made it to Vienna. They stayed in a refugee centre for a few weeks: a massive factory hall, with hundreds of beds next to each other. Horrible conditions to live under for a long period of time, but fortunately they discovered that Ireland was accepting Bosnian refugees, so that’s how they came to Ireland.

There was a lot of media coverage at the time. Zerina’s family lived in a refugee centre for a year or two. Every family had their own room, which was, compared to Austria, luxury. Her parents were really grateful to be looked after. There were medical services, and entertainment, and volunteers who would interact with the Bosnian population there.

In the talk, Zerina said, “In Ireland, I never felt like a stranger. I always felt like one of the other children. I went to school, I had loads of friends. My parents had loads of friends. There were free English courses for Bosnian people and our neighbours would mind me and my sister while our parents were at school, so there was a great support mechanism within the community. And our neighbours, and everyone, really wanted to support us…I always felt very welcome.” Bosnians were provided with social services, community services, and training so they could get jobs more easily. There were two components. On the one hand, the Irish did a great job of integrating the Bosnian community. But the refugees were also given the chance to interact with people from their own culture. This was really important for people with a lot of traumatic experiences, coming from a war.

Going back was not an option anymore

When the war ended, every Bosnian was questioning whether to return to their country or not. For Zerina’s family, going back was not an option. Bosnia as it had been was divided into two parts: the federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Serbian Republic. Since it was one country before, there were mixed ethnicities, so Bosnian-Serbs lived in the Republic, and everyone else lived in the federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. And their house was in the Republic. Zerina described going back there as being like an Irish Protestant living in the Catholic part of Belfast right after the Troubles, or vice versa. It’s just not going to happen. In Foca, she said, when you go back today, you’ll see pictures of war criminals that killed many people being praised as heroes, and graffiti saying that Bosnia belongs to Serbia.

For Zerina’s family, going back was not an option. Bosnia as it had been was divided into two parts: the federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Serbian Republic.

It wasn’t the home they once had; so they had to establish a new one. Eventually they went to Germany because they had a lot of family there and Germany is also, geographically, closer to Bosnia. Zerina went to school there, and she began to travel a lot…

When she was 15, the American Field Service, an organisation, came to her school giving a talk, after which she was absolutely convinced she wanted to do a year abroad. She got herself a scholarship and went to Argentina for a year, living with a host family – an “amazing experience”.

She returned to Germany where she started her Bachelor degree in Political Science, Sociology and Media and Communication Science, and while there she took part in an Erasmus programme. Her Erasmus took her to the University of Cadiz in Spain, where she had a great time and made great friends.

On her return to Germany, Zerina got herself an internship with the United Nations World Food programme, the largest humanitarian agency in the world. Their target is to end world hunger. She worked there for seven months and it fuelled her passion for development and humanitarian aid. And that’s how she’s back in Ireland, because she found a Master’s programme that appealed to her, in the field of development. She’s now studying a course called Development of Practice. She says she’s really happy to be back in Ireland because going to Germany was a tough move for her. This summer she’s going to Kenya for three months, again with the United Nations World Food programme, to research her dissertation on the socio-economic impact of home-grown school feeding programmes in Kenya.

Kenya 2016

Zerina says she considers herself very lucky, because she doesn’t think the life she has now would be possible if she hadn’t had those support mechanisms when she came to Ireland.

“When I see pictures like this, nowadays, it really touches my heart because that boy has the right to the same opportunities we have. Just because he’s from a different country, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be able to interact normally in society. I ask myself, will these children be able to reach their full potential, like I was able to? And if we continue doing what we’re doing at the moment, the politicians especially, I would say no. …These children can’t become the best versions of themselves if they don’t have the right support mechanisms.”

This talk demonstrated to me that support systems don’t merely allow people to survive, they allow people to thrive. They allow refugees to achieve their full potential, grow as people, and give back. It is a long-term investment.

Whether it’s in relation to the appalling Direct Provision system in Ireland today or the response of the world in general to the current refugee crisis, we need to up our game. As Zerina says, it’s our responsibility to implement a policy of zero tolerance towards intolerance.

born in ireland

About the author:

Carol McGillCarol McGill (17) participated in the “My Europe” workshop in Dublin in 2014. She is a student at Mount Temple Comprehensive and loves to write, mostly short stories, in her free time. Carol also enjoys history, drama and reading. Most of all, she would like to be a writer, but is also interested to be involved in promoting human rights and reducing discrimination. More…

Brussels Lockdown

alarm-959592_1920  Thirteenth of  November 2015. This date is still on the minds of many people around the globe as the dreadful day when a series of coordinated terrorist acts occurred in Paris and its northern suburb, Saint-Denis. Three suicide bombers struck near the Stade de France, followed by suicide bombings and mass shootings at cafés, restaurants and a music venue, the Bataclan theatre. The attackers killed 130 persons and injured 368. Seven of the perpetrators of the attacks also died. The attacks were the deadliest in France since World War II and the most fatal in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004.  They led French president François Hollande to declare a 3-month state of emergency and launch Opération Chammal, the most extensive French airstrike operation against ISIS to date. Counter-terrorism measures were also taken by other states in Europe and North America. In addition to triggering political reactions, the event resonated with people across the globe, especially on social media where the Twitter hashtag PrayForParis and the Facebook profile filter French Flag were launched so that people could show their support for France and the families of the victims of the attacks.

Many things can be said about the consequences of the attacks in France and elsewhere, but today I want to focus on some of the effects it has had on my home country, Belgium, and more specifically on Brussels, my hometown.

Some of the men that participated in the attacks lived in Brussels and one of the main perpetrators, Salah Abdesalam, who survived the attacks, is suspected to have crossed the French-Belgian border after the attacks. This prompted Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel to announce a lockdown on Brussels by declaring a level 4 security alert, which is defined by the National Security Council as an imminent and serious threat. As a result, subway lines, schools, universities and many shops were closed down for several days. The Winter Market, one of the biggest annual attractions held in December in the center of Brussels risked being canceled and attracted substantially fewer people than previous years. Military personnel patrolled the city, police presence was increased, streets were empty, and the overriding message was to “avoid all crowded places and stay at home if you can”.

In addition to implementation of these security measures, a total of 20 arrests were made in Molenbeek, a neighbourhood in Brussels where some of the Paris attackers lived and where they may have been radicalized. The arrests were coordinated by Belgium’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Jan Jambon, who stated that he would “clean up Molenbeek”.  Molenbeek was scrutinized by foreign media for several weeks after the raids and many European politicians criticized Belgium for its lack of security and anti-terrorism intelligence.  A headline in the famous French newspaper, le Monde, read: “For Belgians, the Abdesalam brothers did not constitute a threat” and the British daily, The Guardian, stated that “Molenbeek was becoming known as Europe’s Jihadi central”.  Donald Trump, one of the Republican Party candidates for the US presidential elections, claimed that “the capital of Belgium had been adversely affected by its lack of assimilation from their Muslim residents”.

As a Belgian living abroad, I was often asked about the state of alert in Brussels and many individuals who were eager to discuss the issue with me had narratives similar to those proposed by the media. This prompted me to read news articles on the subject and talk to my parents and relatives living in Brussels. It brought me to the following conclusion: while these allegations may have some truth to them, it is important for people to carefully analyze the context of the situation before making assumptions about the gravity of the situation in Brussels, and particularly Molenbeek.

First, with the population increasingly feeling frustrated by the lack of public transport, closed shops and closed schools, the level of alert was decreased to 3 on the 27th of November, only 6 days after imposing security level 4. The decision was made without pointing out any real change in the situation, suggesting that the threat may not have been as prominent as had been claimed in the first place.

Concerning Molenbeek, of the 20 arrests made, 16 people were interrogated and 15 were released. This suggests that the majority of those  arrested did not constitute a direct threat to security and that the intervention was carried out as a show of power. Jan Jambon’s solution was to clean up Molenbeek. This is a simplistic solution that is overused by politicians when referring to the perceived threat that neighbourhoods of lower socio-economic standing pose to the general population. It is a dangerous term because it separates the inhabitants of the said neighbourhood from the rest of the population and treats them as the “problem”. It implies that  if something had to be “cleaned up”,  it must have been “dirty” in the first place. Further alienation of a stigmatized group of people can only increase resentment and lead to more violence.

My suggestion is to urge people around the world to carefully analyze the information they are exposed to by the media and political interests when they address the problem of terrorism. They should consult multiple sources of information with differing perspectives in order to have a more informed opinion on the matter.  Increased knowledge and awareness of the factors contributing to terrorism are essential for the initial steps that will hopefully lead to its eradication.

 

 About the author:

Fiorella pic newFiorella (19) attended our Brussels Workshop as a student of Collège Saint Michel. She is currently an undergraduate student in biological science at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Fiorella is interested in politics, arts & literature, sports (climbing), guitar and travel. Her dream job is being a veterinarian for wild animals in a national park. More…

 

Western norms and values

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Heavy times in Europe right now. Everybody was shocked when the first boat sank. But now, when we have to share our land, we are not that shocked anymore. Sinking boats are something from daily life. Suddenly we have to share our little country with another nation, with another culture and another religion. Nobody ever said it should be easy.

When I was little I was taught not to burp at the table. Always to look people straight in the eyes, to have respect for everyone and every culture I was with. These are norms, with the value to respect everyone. In Europe a big discussion is going on right now: do we have the duty to welcome these people? Even though they stick to another culture, another religion?

A few famous, populistic, politicians say we have to overthink our own Western Norms and Values and protect them first, instead of just taking everyone. Even though they see norms and values, which are normal to us, in another way. So, my question, what are these norms and values exactly?

Je suis Charlie. Paris 7th of January 2015. Two men in black suits shot cartoonists. Cartoons emerged afterwards: cartoons from ‘western people’ with duck-tape stuck to their mouths. It seems so important to us: our freedom of expression. We have this famous politician in Holland: Geert Wilders. He is repeatedly accused for insulting remarks/expressions against Muslims. His expressions and speeches are banal and heavy, and many people wonder why he has so many followers. It is because of this, we all had the same feeling when the cartoonist got killed: our freedom of expression is in danger. ‘We have fought for it through history’. I think this is an important value in Holland, so it is in Europe. People get angry when they feel they cannot say what they want, even though it is hurting other humans. Right now, in Poland the government decided to lead the state television, which means they can control when and what people say on television. According the rules from the EU-membership this is forbidden. But with another crisis to carry, the EU doesn’t pay that much attention to this problem. Even though it imparks the Polish citizens’ freedom of expression.

New Year’s Eve. Cologne 1th of January 2016. Sexual harassment is a big issue and was put on the spotlights after the incidents in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. First the refugees came to ‘touch’ our freedom of expression. Now they’re touching our women: the world has gone mad.

So, safety should be a value. Safety on the streets to walk everywhere and at every moment you want, in the clothes you like. So, according to our European identity there are two important values: freedom of expression and safety (no sexual intimidation). The most important values, but in my opinion also the most empty values. I wonder, are you free when the government checks everything you are doing on the streets and on the internet in the name of keeping terrorists away from planning attacks?

For example: in Amsterdam you can be who you are and by that I mean the gay community. The Ministry of Education in Holland decided to educate asylum seekers in gay rights in the Netherlands. As the minister Jet Bussemaker told the media: ‘Refugees often come from countries where female- and gay rights are not always self-evident’. I think this is not only a Dutch value: discrimination is also not allowed in other European countries. So I think we can say that ‘no discrimination’ or ‘tolerance’ also are Western values.

So with this we come to a few important values belonging to our Western European World: Freedom of expression, safety (on every area), against discrimination, tolerance. And with these we also come to another value: the European Identity. Some European citizens are afraid Europe will lose her identity and her dominant culture, when lots of people from other cultures come to live here. I think this is not true, because I think diversity and tolerance towards other cultures and religions is one of the strongest values a country can have. We have to defend this values, but not because they’re ‘our Western values we have fight for through history’. We have to defend and think about them because these are values that are always very important.

What allows us to teach refugees not to condemn people on their sexual preferences if we still condemn people on their culture and religion ourselves?

 

About the author:

Adinda BlankAdinda Blank (18) participated in our workshop in Amsterdam in 2014 as a student of Montessori Lyceum Amsterdam. She is dreaming of becoming a journalist and enjoys history, singing, rowing, drawing as well as writing stories.

Syrian conflict: what is it all about and why we should be interested in it?

syria-1151151_1920Most Europeans do not possibly remember when they last saw a news show where the Syrian conflict was not mentioned. It sometimes appears that we almost got used to hearing about renewed bombings, numerous casualties and fruitless attempts of diplomats to alter the course of events in the Middle East region. However, taking a closer look at the developments in Syria might help to understand many processes in the contemporary world starting with the refugee crisis and ending with the continuing hostility between the United States and Russia.

The roots of the Syrian Civil War lie in 2011. Following the Arab Spring movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, public uprisings against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in Damascus. The peoples of Syria, however, were not as successful in forcing their leader out of power as the protesters in North African countries. A civil war between the government and the rebels began.

In a short time the conflict was no longer limited by the Syrian borders. Iran’s support to Assad’s regime together with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States declaring their support to the rebel forces followed by the involvement of the United States (on rebels’ side) and Russia (on Assad’s side) caused a polarization of all the countries having interests in the Middle East region. The situation was even more complicated by the Kurds (a national minority in Northern Syria) renewing their struggle for independence.

Finally, the conflict gave an opportunity for the emergence of the Islamic State (also referred to as Daesh). The terrorist state was formed after the Syrian al-Qaeda branch fighting against Assad’s regime bearing the name of al-Nusra Front merged with the Islamic State of Iraq and occupied large territories in Eastern Syria. Daesh’s ambitions of establishing a global caliphate and several terrorist attacks have brought the attention of every single nation in the world towards Syria.

What are the results of all this mess? According to Amnesty International, the number of victims of the conflict had reached 220 000 by the end of 2015 and is constantly growing. During the five years of the conflict the economy of the country suffered irreversible damage, numerous human rights’ violations occurred and a chemical weapon was used. At the moment about 50 per cent of the Syrian population is displaced and 4 million people fled their country as refugees.

The question that one may ask is why the conflict continues? Who is it beneficial to? The ones who win the most are, doubtlessly, the terrorist groups. The lack of order in Syrian governmental institutions makes any control of Syrian territory almost impossible, thus allowing the Islamic State to establish its own institutional and economic mechanisms in the east of the country. Uncontrolled Syrian borders also give the IS a possibility to perform international terrorism.

However, the Islamic State is not the main factor preventing either the reconciliation between the rebels and Assad’s regime or the decisive victory of one of the sides. In some ways the situation in Syria surprisingly resembles the local conflicts of the Cold War that took place in Korea or Vietnam. The involvement of Russia and the United States on different belligerent sides turns Syria into the arena of an international conflict between the two greatest military powers in the world.

This clash of the two Cold War enemies also leads any legal international intervention attempts to an impasse: both countries have the right of veto in the United Nations Security Council, which makes passing an effective resolution to solve the Syrian Civil War issue practically impossible. From this point of view the situation cannot be expected to change soon as the conflict remains a matter of influence in the Middle East region which both Russia and the US always sought for.

European countries played little role in the beginning of the conflict but are now being drawn into it more and more firmly. Europe’s role in the Syrian conflict mainly consists of two aspects. First, Europe becomes one of the main destinations of civilians fleeing Syria. Some countries of the European Union advocate the open-door policy while others oppose it, thus causing the internal division of the EU. The problem aggravated as the continuing flow of Syrian migrants gave a pretext to many economic refugees from Northern Africa to search for a better life in Europe despite the absence of any military threats.

The other way in which Europe contributes towards the developments in Syria is the fight against the Islamic State. Following the attacks in Paris France and Great Britain have carried out several bombings in the territory of the IS. However, it is always difficult for democratic governments to receive the popular approval for military actions, which makes it doubtable whether the European role will be significant in giving a decisive blow to Daesh.

The main interest of the European Union is, of course, finishing the conflict. This would sustainably solve the refugee crisis and the newly formed Syrian government would be able to regain territory from the IS. But as military intervention is hardly possible and hardly desirable the main role the EU should play here is that of being a diplomatic intermediary striving to reconcile the belligerent sides. Remaining completely neutral is no longer possible: the conflict taking place in Syria is no longer a local one and it is a duty of every single nation in the world to contribute to solving it.

 

About the author:

Picture Gediminas GodaGediminas (18) took part in our workshop in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2014. He attends International Baccalaureate course at Vilnius Lyceum and is dreaming of being a professor at university in the future. His interests are literature, politics and board games. More…

Travelling as a young European

shinoukMany young people love the idea of traveling (without parents/guardians), but have no idea how to realise their dream. Planning a trip requires a lot of organisation, dedication and sadly, also money. But how do you plan a trip without using your whole bank account? And what are the best ways to plan and book?

At first, if you don’t want to travel alone, find a group of friends who are quite flexible and have the same expectations. Many plans end forehanded, due to different views.

With that done, you are able to start finding a nice destination. In order not to spend way too much money, you can think a little out of the box. Instead of going to Adriatic coastlines, you could also go to Croatia. If you want to go skiing, don’t go to Lech, you can also ski in the Czech Republic. For the citytrippers among us, go to Budapest instead of Stockholm or London.

Think also of the manner you get to the place of your choice. If you decided to travel a little bit farther from home, is can be cheaper to go by airplane. www.skyscanner.com is a great site for booking cheap tickets. If you want to see more than one place, book an Interrail Global pass. This is a special train ticket for young people, that allows you to travel by train through 30 countries in Europe! They also have One Country passes, so if you’re just traveling through one country, that might be the best option for you.

After having found your dream destination it is time to book your accommodations. The best advice for young people is to stay in hostels. Hostels are not that expensive, mostly quite central and above all, they are great places to meet other travellers. Especially if you are a solo traveller, it is amazing to meet new people. But even if you are with a group of friends, if you meet other persons in your hostels, they mostly become instant friends.

Try to book early, most hostels offer early bird deals! If you have any doubts, just call them, most of the times they take away all of your doubts. If you are under 18, some hostels only allow you to stay in their hostel if you have an allowance letter from you parents/guardians with a photocopy of their ID or passport! Many hostels don’t have this clearly written out on their site, so pay attention if this is necessary.

You can always just go with the flow and don’t plan anything ahead. The risk with this method is that you miss some amazing this your place of choice has to offer. I prefer to have some sort of planning, so I’m sure I don’t forget things. For me, the fun of planning a trip is almost as nice as the trip itself.

 

About the author:

Shinouk EttemaShinouk Ettema (17) took part in the Dutch edition of “My Europe” in 2014. When coming home from Vossius Gymnasium in Amsterdam, she loves to go horse riding, play the guitar and do fun things with her friends. Shinouk is not quite sure yet what her profession should be, but it should involve making contact with other cultures, lots of travelling and writing.

For me, My Europe is…

…a place where everyone can interact with each other to achieve more together than they would have on their own.