Protect 500 Vulnerable Women and Children in Nepal

by The Advocacy Project
Protect 500 Vulnerable Women and Children in Nepal
Protect 500 Vulnerable Women and Children in Nepal
Protect 500 Vulnerable Women and Children in Nepal
Protect 500 Vulnerable Women and Children in Nepal
Protect 500 Vulnerable Women and Children in Nepal
Protect 500 Vulnerable Women and Children in Nepal
Protect 500 Vulnerable Women and Children in Nepal
Protect 500 Vulnerable Women and Children in Nepal
Protect 500 Vulnerable Women and Children in Nepal
Protect 500 Vulnerable Women and Children in Nepal
COVID-19, as seen by conflict survivors in Nepal
COVID-19, as seen by conflict survivors in Nepal

This report is sent to 354 friends who have donated to our appeals on GlobalGiving for relatives of the disappeared in Nepal. First among you are 15 generous individuals who gave $1,690 towards our Tiger bag project this past summer. Your combined donations have allowed us to send $19,995 to 27 women and their families since 2015. Thank you!

The Stakeholders

Let me start by re-introducing you to our stakeholders in Nepal. If they seem familiar we make no apologies. They are among the most remarkable people we have worked with since AP was established 20 years ago.

All are members of the Network of Families of the Disappeared in Nepal (NEFAD), and all lost close family members during the conflict which convulsed Nepal between 1996 and 2006. They are led by Sarita, who lost her father when she was eleven. We have told their story in depth on our website

This partnership has produced deep friendships. The Bardiya women have mentored five of our Peace Fellows since 2016. They also hosted Bobbi, an AP Board member and distinguished American quilter, during an emotional visit in 2019 which we described in this video. If you have not watched it, please do! You will be moved.

Story-telling Through Embroidery

We first sought funds for the Bardiya group as part of an appeal for victims of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal in 2015. Our reasoning was that vulnerable people always bear the brunt of “natural” disasters. This certainly applied to wives of the disappeared in Nepal who had lost their homes and were ill-equipped to navigate the bureaucratic government response to the disaster. Our 2015 appeal yielded almost $10,000 for the families.

In 2018 we launched the first of three new appeals specifically for the Bardiya cooperative. As with many of our partnerships, it began with story-telling through embroidery. Your donations paid for training, fabric, travel and snacks. The artists did not want a stipend but accepted a nominal fee ($25) for each square to compensate them for time lost on the harvest. We follow a similar approach with other partners who make embroidery.

The Bardiya artists began by depicting  the traumatic circumstances under which their husbands or sons had been seized. Bobbi helped them to assemble their squares into two striking advocacy quilts during her visit in April 2019. We also profiled the quilts on our website.

Tiger Bags

By 2019, the Bardiya cooperative members were feeling the need to use their stitching skills to earn money. They decided to make and sell bags in honor of the tigers that live in the Bardiya national park.

The first year – 2018 – produced exuberant tiger designs, sample tote bags, and even three wonderful tiger quilts. But it was clear that the bags would not sell in the US, so the cooperative members decided to press the reset button. Working with Bobbi in Bardiya they came up with a more contemporary design as seen on these pages. Each bag has been hand-initialled by the maker.

The production of Tiger bags has been put on hold by the pandemic, but we have 25 bags in our possession and will be promoting them when the lockdown ends. At the request of the artists, we will also reach out to conservation groups and see if we can use the bags to connect tiger conservation and transitional justice. Contact us to order a bag!

Describing COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has taken the Bardiya embroidery project in a totally unexpected direction.

As the virus penetrated Bardiya, the women retreated to their homes. But instead of surrendering to boredom and despair, several decided to use their skills to describe the ravages of the pandemic. This has produced powerful squares that speak of isolation and separation. None is more poignant than Alina’s design, shown below, which shows a dying man and his wife thinking about the mass burial of COVID-19 victims.

These COVID-19 squares are the culmination of four years of growth by the Bardiya artists. Their needlework is precise and their compositions are intricate, colorful and uncluttered. Set against a somber grey background they certainly capture the desolation of the pandemic. But we also wonder if the style could be put to commercial use and have suggested that the artists might use it to paint village scenes for pottery.

Advocating for Transitional Justice

Parallel to these different business and artistic activities there is advocacy. Everything done by the Bardiya artists helps them to remember, and compensate for, the loss of their relatives.

If anything, their anguish deepens with each passing day. This can be mysterious to people who have never suffered such loss and we attempted to explore it through podcasts and blogs on the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared (August 30, 2020).

One of our 2020 Peace Fellows, Beth, produced a podcast discussion about disappearances in Nepal with Ram, the founder of NEFAD whose father was kidnapped in broad daylight in 2001. Ram was locked down in Portugal for most of 2020 but at least – as he memorably told Beth - the world now knows how it feels to be forcibly separated from those you love: “Families of the disappeared have been living through a pandemic for the last twenty years.”

Two days later, Iain from AP followed up with a podcast about the disappearances in Argentina with Ariel, the first Argentinian to chair the UN Working Group on Enforced an Involuntary Disappearances. Iain also wrote a blog about the psychological scars left from the disappearances in Nepal and Argentina, which we published as a news bulletin.

All of this is aimed at reinforcing NEFAD’s long campaign to ensure that the needs and rights of family-members are recognized. AP remains committed to this fight. We took one of the Bardiya memorial quilts to the UN in Geneva in 2019, and will help Ram to testify before the UN Human Rights Council in 2021 when the lockdown lifts. We admire his vision and courage.

Looking Ahead

If nothing else, I hope that this report has shown how a simple donation to GlobalGiving can produce a cascade of unintended outcomes!

Embroidery lies at the heart of it all. Your donations have produced more than art. The Bardiya artists tell us that countless hours of stitching together has deepened friendships, given focus to their association, and provided them with an outlet for frustration and grief. This has persisted through the pandemic: even if they have worked separately, they have spent many hours discussing their designs by phone.

They are excited to have made bags that might find a market, and keen to build a sustained business. They also seem mildly surprised to hear their exquisite COVID designs praised as a unique form of art. All of this gives us a renewed incentive to continue working at their side. You will be hearing more about the Bardiya artists!

At the same time, this will be the last of 28 reports to describe how your GlobalGiving donations have been used over the past five years. We thank you for your generosity, but also for your patience!

Stay safe and enjoy the holiday. And may 2021 bring relief to Nepal and the US.

Iain and the AP team

Sarita was one of 30 artists to make Tiger squares
Sarita was one of 30 artists to make Tiger squares
Kancham and Pooja contributed to this Tiger quilt
Kancham and Pooja contributed to this Tiger quilt
Alina and friends sell Tiger bags in Bardiya
Alina and friends sell Tiger bags in Bardiya
Grrrr - One of the new Tiger bags
Grrrr - One of the new Tiger bags
COVID despair: waiting to die, burying the dead
COVID despair: waiting to die, burying the dead

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Sarita works on a new bag in Bardiya, 2019
Sarita works on a new bag in Bardiya, 2019

This update is being sent to friends who have kindly donated to our appeals on behalf of family members of the disappeared in Nepal since 2015, when we first sought funds for them through GlobalGiving following the earthquake.

Over the last five years, with your help, we have channeled over $15,000 to these 28 courageous women and girls in western Nepal, all of whom lost relatives during Nepal’s long conflict. They live in the western state of Bardiya, which suffered more disappearances than any other district during the conflict in Nepal (1996-2006).

In spite of this grim past, there was a mood of optimism and even excitement about them when we last reported to you in February. Helped by past Peace Fellows and your donations, the women had formed a cooperative; told their story through two wonderful memorial quilts (one of which was shown at the UN); and developed a handsome tote bag carrying the motif of a tiger. We had brought samples of their bags to the US and received several commissions.

The women of Bardiya were also preparing to join a new campaign by their national movement, the Network of Families of the Disappeared in Nepal (NEFAD), to demand justice for their lost loved ones.

In other words, things were looking up in Nepal and the US. We recruited two very capable Peace Fellows from The Fletcher School (Tufts) and Georgetown to serve at NEFAD this summer and help the Bardiya cooperative to pursue their twin goals - building up their business and securing a system of transitional justice that addresses their needs.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since early March, it has been a struggle every step of the way. As with countless other community initiatives, the Bardiya bag project was put on hold. The cooperative had rented a shop near the Bardiya National Park in the hope of selling bags to tourists, but the shop closed. Members were unable to meet in person – an unbearable prospect for women who rely on each other’s company. The sewing machines fell silent.

The cooperative members looked for other ways to help in their communities. Using a small grant from AP, they made 200 face masks at home for local medical centers. This was useful, but there is now a glut of masks on the market. The cooperative will have to find other solutions if it is to stay together.

Sarita (top photo) and her friends have responded by adopting a bold strategy that could carry lessons for others facing the same predicament. Instead of surrendering to the pandemic, they have decided to exploit the opportunities it offers for a new approach.

Their first goal is to increase their stock of tiger bags. They will rent a new room nearer to their homes and take turns to work the sewing machines (and social distance) while the lockdown gradually eases. They had made over 40 bags when the pandemic struck and hope to make 100 by the end of the year. That will give them a cushion for when sales resume.

The cooperative will also use innovative branding as part of a new marketing strategy. Each bag will carry a small woven signature by the bag-maker to link it to her own unique story. Back in the US, the AP team will post photos of the bag-makers with their bags and hopefully drive sales when life gets back to normal.

AP is fielding an accomplished team this summer, and we want partners like NEFAD to take advantage of this to expand their market and their networks. One of our assistants, Grace, who studies at the Walt Whitman High School here in Washington, is reaching out to tiger conservation groups. Another, Taylor, at Elon University in North Carolina, will be posting regularly to our five social media platforms. We have also invited our friends at NEFAD to post blogs on our website. We hope to Zoom with bag-makers like Alina, 17 and Kushma, seen in the photos.

Last, and most important, we are not forgetting the core issue of traditional justice. Peace Fellow Beth from the Fletcher School at Tufts, is working with Ram, the founder of NEFAD, to produce a report for the United Nations on transitional justice. The report will help the UN Human Rights Council to assess Nepal's human rights record in Geneva next year.

All of this has given us a morale boost, in Nepal and the US, after some grim months. It also suggests the need for a new beginning. As a result, we have decided to start afresh with a 3-month microproject ro raise more seed money for the Tiger bags on July 15 – GlobalGiving’s matching day. We want the Bardiya cooperative to be prepared when markets open and travel resumes.

To all of you who have supported our work with NEFAD through the years, thank you! We hope you can continue to support Sarita and her remarkable team.

And to you all - stay safe.

In gratitude,

The NEFAD and AP teams

Tiger tiger! New bags from the Bardiya cooperative
Tiger tiger! New bags from the Bardiya cooperative
Sarita making masks
Sarita making masks
We're inviting Alina, 17, to be an AP e-pal!!
We're inviting Alina, 17, to be an AP e-pal!!

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Making tiger bags in Bardiya
Making tiger bags in Bardiya

This update is being sent to friends who have kindly donated to our appeals on behalf of family members of the disappeared in Nepal since 2015.

To recap:

Nepalis are still struggling to recover from the wounds of a long conflict (1996-2006). The worst-affected by far are the relatives of more than 2,500 Nepalis who were seized and have never reappeared. Working through the Network of Family-members of the Disappeared (NEFAD) we have developed a close relationship with a cooperative of around 30 family members in the western district of Bardiya, which suffered more disappearances than any other district in Nepal.

So far, with your help, we have raised $15,142.66 for the Bardiya cooperative.

We began in 2016 by working through Peace Fellows to help the women commemorate their lost loved ones through embroidery, as we have done with many other partners in the Global South. By the end of 2018, they had produced over 40 embroidered squares.

As we wrote in previous reports, we asked Bobbi, an expert quilter and member of our board of directors, to visit Nepal in April 2019 and help the cooperative members assemble two quilts. The quilts and artists are profiled on our website. You might also like this video of Bobbi’s reaction to working with these brave women.

We then turned to using the quilts to advocate for justice. Sarita, the head of the cooperative, kept one of the quilts in Nepal. Iain showed the second quilt to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances in Geneva (photo). This is in line with NEFAD's strategy of persuading the UN human rights bodies to engage more actively in Nepal. We plan to deploy two experienced Peace Fellows in Nepal this coming summer to produce studies on the disappeared and reparations, which will then be submitted to the UN.

Our second approach is to move from story-telling to income-generation. During her trip to Nepal, Bobbi helped Sarita and her team to design new Tiger bags. We purchased two sewing machines and material. Kushma rented an office. Sima agreed to act as the cooperative treasurer. Kancham – one of the best artists in the cooperative (photo) – began making new designs.

As of now, the Nepali bag-makers have produced 35 bags and hope to reach 50 by the time our Peace Fellows arrive in the summer to collect the bags and assess progress. Meanwhile, our Washington team is exploring the possibility of auctioning the bags online, or selling them through retail. One way or another, the fight for transitional justice will continue –  in Nepal and here in the US.

In gratitude

The AP team

Kancham is the best artist in the cooperative
Kancham is the best artist in the cooperative
Binita's embroidery commemorates her lost husband
Binita's embroidery commemorates her lost husband
The Bardiya memorial quilt at the United Nations
The Bardiya memorial quilt at the United Nations
Tiger tiger! New bags from the Bardiya cooperative
Tiger tiger! New bags from the Bardiya cooperative
Bobbi and Sarita with the first tiger bag
Bobbi and Sarita with the first tiger bag
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Kancham, proud of her Tiger bag!
Kancham, proud of her Tiger bag!

This report is offered to friends of The Advocacy Project who donated to an appeal we launched on GlobalGiving in 2015. This appeal generated $27,123 from 211 generous donors, including yourself. We divided the money up between three of our partners in Nepal who work for vulnerable women and children.

Four years on, we want to bring you up to date on one of the groups - 35 remarkable women in the western district of Bardiya who lost loved ones to the disappearances during the conflict in Nepal (1996-2006). We have launched another four small appeals for this group since 2015. The fourth appeal is still active.

Not surprisingly, the women are still haunted by memories. The group’s coordinator, Sarita, lost her father after he was falsely accused of Maoist sympathies by a relative. Sarita and her mother were then driven from the village. Sarita's husband died from a snakebite shortly afterwards. Poojah saw her father taken away by the army, never to return, and is still demanding an explanation - even though she is married to a soldier. Most older members of the group work in the fields for a pittance. They need justice. They also need money.

AP was set up to support community-based associations like the Bardiya cooperative that are led by determined survivors of abuse like Sarita. But we – and the women – also understand that it will take more than determination to produce sustained benefits for the group members.

And this is why they are making bags.

They began in 2016 by using embroidery to describe the disappearance of their loved ones, often in graphic detail. The following year they turned from human rights to the environment, and made squares about the tigers that live in the nearby Bardiya National Park. AP brought the squares to the US where they were assembled into three delightful quilts by Bobbi, a talented quilter from North Carolina.

The women of Bardiya then decided to go into business. They commissioned several shops in Kathmandu to turn their Tiger squares into bags, but were dissatisfied by the result. So they turned to Sarita, who made 30 sample bags at the end of 2018.

And this is where we now stand.

There is no doubt that this project has empowered these brave women. We pay $20 for each piece of embroidery, which puts money in the pockets of the women and gives them the chance to work together and learn new skills. They have shown discipline in sharing out their income at the end of the year. Helped by a new sewing machine, Sarita has become an excellent seamstress and teacher. She dreams of opening a store at the Bardiya National Park where her friends can sell tiger bags to tourists.

This dream, however, will only be realized if the group can sell bags, and this is proving difficult. We do not know why. It could be the quality of the bags, or the cost of production (which includes the $20 paid to artists), or simple competition in a country where every trekker and tourist owns a bag.

It is hard for AP to help from Washington, so we have decided that Bobbi the quilter and Iain from AP will visit Bardiya in April. Bobbi will help the women assemble their commemorative squares into an advocacy quilt to be exhibited in Nepal and the US. She will also advise Sarita on her bag-making – the first time (to our knowledge) that an American quilter has visited the Global South to provide such technical assistance. Iain will seek out markets at tourist lodges and shops in Kathmandu, help the cooperative to design a new business plan, and profile the group on the AP website. Whatever we raise on Global Giving will go to the cooperative.

AP is committed to these women and to their vision. If they can launch a successful business they could influence the national debate in Nepal over how to compensate family-members of the disappeared, which has reached an angry stalemate. But we also understand the importance of investing your donations wisely. Right now, it hangs on finding a market.

Are we on the right track? We would love to hear from you!

In the meantime, know that the ladies of Bardiya are deeply grateful for your support.

We’ll keep you posted!

The AP team

 

Sarita gives embroidery training in Bardiya
Sarita gives embroidery training in Bardiya
Still missing her father
Still missing her father
Peace Fellows Vicky and Kirstin (2017) in Bardiya
Peace Fellows Vicky and Kirstin (2017) in Bardiya
Sarita hopes to sell Tiger bags to tourists
Sarita hopes to sell Tiger bags to tourists
Bobbi is heading to Nepal to help make Tiger bags
Bobbi is heading to Nepal to help make Tiger bags
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Indira Thapa (l) from CWN at the 2018 health camp
Indira Thapa (l) from CWN at the 2018 health camp

The ninth and final report on our earthquake appeal in Nepal

By Iain Guest - Project Leader

This is the final report on our appeal for three marginalized communities that were affected by the devastating 2015 earthquake. The appeal has generated $27,106 through 262 donations and is now close to reaching our original target ($30,000). Our plan is to retire the appeal early in 2018 and launch three new appeals for our Nepali partners, whose work is more relevant than ever. We hope you will stay involved!

The purpose of this email is to explain briefly how we have used your donations. While the earthquake has remained a factor, our three partners have moved past that disaster and developed innovative models for addressing the discrimination that made them so vulnerable to the earthquake in the first place. This is exciting and makes it more likely that your investment can be scaled and sustained.

Combating uterine prolapse in eastern Nepal

Our goal with this project is to help our partner Care Women Nepal (CWN) to improve access to health services for village women who live in the remote district of Dhankuta. This is particularly important when it comes to uterine prolapse, or fallen womb.

The women of Dhankuta are particularly vulnerable because they walk long distances in a mountainous area, carry heavy loads, and often go back to work soon after giving birth. But government weakness also plays a role. During a field visit in October, we found that most government health centers (some of which were damaged by the earthquake) cannot even diagnose, let alone treat, prolapse. The Dhankuta hospital has only 20 beds and does not have a resident gynecologist who can perform surgeries.

CWN’s approach is to screen women for prolapse and other medical ailments at health camps. The camps are staffed by medical specialists from larger hospitals outside Dhankuta who know Indira Thapa (photo above), the founder of CWN and are only too happy to practice their skills, as we explain in this recent news bulletin. CWN is also able to mobilize a large team of volunteers to help. Women with mild prolapse receive a pessary while those with third degree prolapse are placed on a waiting list for surgery. Click on this video to see how the camps work.

CWN has screened 4,975 women at 6 camps since 2015. Around thirty have undergone surgery for prolapse and thousands more have benefitted from other interventions, including cataract surgery, after attending a camp (photo).

This wonderful project has been well served by three Peace Fellows, who provided technical support and raised their own funds. Our 2017 Fellow Rachel Pettit, a student at Sciences Po in Paris, raised $2,588.

In all, we have raised $26,592 for Care Women Nepal - more than twice the amount we received through our 2015 appeal. And we still have more than $8,000 in our CWN account – enough to fund another health camp in 2018.

At the same time, we are determined that the next camp will strengthen the government health system, which is the only way to reach all women in Dhankuta. The camp will be organized jointly by CWN and the Dhankuta hospital. They will choose the doctors together and make sure that nurses from the hospital and health centers receive prolapse training in the process. They will also use the camp to develop patient records, which can be followed up by hospital staff. Finally, CWN will help the Dhankuta hospital to coordinate prolapse surgeries with larger hospitals.

If this can be achieved, we will have put in place a system that can benefit thousands of vulnerable women in Dhankuta – a wonderful way to build on your donation. We will launch a new appeal for CWN on Global Giving in the new year.

Educating children from the brick factories

Our second partner CONCERN takes children out of the brick factories and places them in school. As we have explained in previous reports and through videos, children as young as three are flipping bricks in violation of Nepali law which forbids the employment of children under the age of 16. While they are no doubt helping out their parents, this work is abusive, dangerous and illegal.

Our goal has been to place 50 brick children in school for at least five years, which is probably long enough to ensure that the children will not return to bricks. We also want to ensure that the children enjoy a good education. Once the model is developed we hope to apply it on a broader scale in seven factories.

How have we done? We placed fifty children in school in 2015 and posted their profiles online. We placed 50 children in school again this year for the third year running, although we had to replace 6 children who left the area and one child who moved on to secondary school. CONCERN also began working with two new schools.

Our 2017 Peace Fellow Cynthia Boruchowicz met with 44 of the 50 children this summer and updated their profiles for our website. During her interviews, Cynthia – a PHD student at the University of Maryland – learned that some children had gone back to flipping bricks after they returned from school. As a result, we will fund extra tuition next year at the Suryodaya Balbikas primary school in Bhaktapur. This should help children like Sanu who live in a brick factory, to complete their homework and stop work completely after school (photo). If it works we can expand tuition in 2019.

Such adjustments are possible because – once again - we have used your donations to leverage more funding. Since 2015 we have raised $21,162 for CONCERN, and still have over $3,000 left as we head into 2018. As with Care Women Nepal, we plan to launch a new appeal for this project in early 2018.

The biggest challenge is to scale up the model and change policy or behavior. That will probably not happen until CONCERN can engage directly with the factory owners, who wield enormous power. That will be very much on our agenda for next year.

Empowering wives of the disappeared

The Maoist rebellion (1996-2006) triggered a vicious conflict in Nepal and led to the disappearance of over 1,500 Nepalis who have never reappeared. Several of their families also lost homes to the earthquake. The question was - how could we help?

At the suggestion of the family members we began in 2015 by offering training in embroidery. This kicked into high gear in 2016 when our Peace Fellow Megan Keeling from the Fletcher School at Tufts University arranged training for a group of wives in Bardiya, who produced embroidered squares about their husbands. These are being assembled into an advocacy quilt which will be shown at events in Nepal in 2018.

AP then suggested that the family members produce embroidery for sale. In the summer of 2017 our two Fellows Kirstin and Vicky visited Bardiya and helped 25 women to form a cooperative. Coop members like Pooja (photo) produced a series of tiger designs, which were taken to Kathmandu by their coordinator, Sarita, and turned into sample bags by tailors (photo). Making these bags has done wonders for morale, as we explain in this recent bulletin.

The Bardiya group hopes to produce 50 more bags by next summer, for sale in Nepal or the US. We are also funding training for the inspiring leader of the cooperative, Sarita Thapa (whose own father disappeared), in how to make bags.

Parallel to this, we have invested in strengthening the cooperative, which now has legal statutes, a bank account and elected officers. We have also recruited an English-speaking student, Prabal, to help them manage the project. Since 2015 we have raised just over $11,000 for the cooperative and still have $2,280 to spend next year.

The Bardiya family members are represented by a network, NEFAD, and our other goal for 2018 is to help NEFAD lobby for justice. This will be difficult because politics in Nepal is confused but we hope to have a plan by early 2018 and may ask the UN to intervene. We will post a new appeal on Global Giving for the Bardiya wives in 2018.

*

It has been an enormous privilege to support these dedicated men and women during the past three years. You can be very proud of the way they have used your generous donations. We do hope you will stay involved!

Wishing you a very happy holiday and a prosperous new year. And again, thank you for your generosity.

The AP team

Screening for cataracts at the CWN health camp
Screening for cataracts at the CWN health camp
Some of CONCERN's young beneficiaries
Some of CONCERN's young beneficiaries
Poojah's father disappeared during the conflict
Poojah's father disappeared during the conflict
Prabal and Sarita commission tiger bags
Prabal and Sarita commission tiger bags
Extra tuition will help Sanu avoid work in bricks
Extra tuition will help Sanu avoid work in bricks
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The Advocacy Project

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @AdvocacyProject
Project Leader:
Iain Guest
Washington, DC United States

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