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A New Adventure!

YeahMarissaIndiaAmb

Well! It’s all official. The President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, nominated Yeah the new Ambassador of Mali to India.

My country INDIA!! Whohooo!!! I am super excited to return back to my country. After 4+ years in Mali, the kids and I have had a wonderful opportunity to learn and experience the Malian culture and traditions. We have come to love the Malian people like our own and to understand intimately the many challenges they face on a daily basis. Through Yeah’s role as Mayor, we have enjoyed many unique experiences and learned much about local governance and the ability to impact the citizens of Oueléssébougou. Running the campaign was a whole different ball park and it was probably the biggest challenge we have lived through. The kids have adapted amazingly well to life in Mali. We came here when Keanen was 5 years old and Carmen barely 3, where they knew only English and the comforts of America. When we first came, the adjustment was hard, the challenges many. But we were blessed with courage at our most difficult times. Now the kids speak French fluently and I have been able to learn both French and Bambara. Through school and our different road trips, our children have enjoyed the beauty of experiencing different cultures. They have accompanied us on the many projects that have taken us to many villages and communities all over Mali. Road trips took on a whole new meaning and I have to say they have loved it!! Through our foundation Empower Mali, we have continued to partner with rural communities in Mali to make an impact in education, clean water/energy and leadership development. The high level partnerships and contacts we have in Mali and the United States will allow us to continue fundraising and implementing the work we are doing. We have no plans to stop building schools, providing scholarship opportunities abroad or increasing access to basic rights like clean water and food.

So much accomplished and so many great experiences lived in just 4 years. When I first started this blog 4+ years ago, I could not have predicted this. I can hardly wait to see what the next few years hold for our family. India will be a new experience for us all. It has been 15+ years since I have visited. I am excited for the kids to learn my own culture/traditions and get to experience the different religions and exotic cultures all housed in one beautiful country. Not to mention the opportunity to travel the many surrounding countries where we will also serve.

While we will mainly be based in New Delhi, the India Mission will cover 10 different Asian countries. We will have an opportunity to serve Malians and grow relations between Mali and all these countries. The countries are: India, Bangladesh, Nepal , Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam and Thailand. For 11+ years, Yeah has shown he can help move Mali forward at a local and national level. Now I am thrilled that he has received the opportunity to play this role and will be able to make an impact on a larger national and international level. In this day and age, Asia has shown herself to be a big player and by helping grow relationships Yeah has the opportunity to create many partnerships that will help many Malians abroad and at home.

Yeah said the following in a recent press release: ” Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta announced that he has appointed me as the next Malian Ambassador to the Republic of India. The jurisdiction of the post in New Delhi, India covers 10 countries: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam.

As a result of this appointment, I will soon travel to India with my family to begin my work representing Malian interests in these countries. I am grateful to President Keïta for this opportunity and look forward to representing Mali in this new role.

Malians benefit in many ways from trade with India, whether it be through our increased electricity or access to high-quality medicines resulting from Indian imports, or from our sales of cotton and other agricultural products to India that puts money in the pockets of Malians across the country. This continued and growing trade partnership is improving the lives of citizens in both countries, and I look forward to building upon this relationship in the coming years.

As Mayor of Oueléssébougou over the last six years, I have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of everyone in our area. When I was first elected, less than ten percent of the population paid taxes, and government workers were owed six months of salary. When measured in terms of our governmental management and transparency, our commune was at the bottom of the list. Six years later, I am proud to say we have transformed our area, making it one of the most respected and admired areas in all of Mali. Today, 86 percent of our citizens pay taxes, and our area is seen as a model of transparent and effective government. Working with our city council and other local leaders, I have also brought investment and critical infrastructure to our area as well. We now have a hospital in our area. We have a high school for our children, and we have more primary schools as well. We have improved our water infrastructure. We have the largest solar panel field in West Africa. We are helping farmers with equipment so they can make their land more productive. Instead of citizens waiting weeks for their local government to help them with requests, now they wait only days—with many receiving help on the same day. We have shown this type of transformation is possible in Mali.

In recent years, I have also worked as a part of Empower Mali and other foundations to help build schools for our children, provide scholarship opportunities to children in Mali to study abroad, purchase tractors for our farmers, and construct hospitals for our communities. While I am committed to my role as Ambassador, I will also continue to actively ensure through my contacts on the ground that our projects on the ground in Mali continue to grow, benefiting the communities in rural Mali. I urge Foundation benefactors to continue to support this work and encourage others to get involved as well.

I have worked hard every day as Mayor of Oueléssébougou to make lives better. It is with great honor that I accept the position of Ambassador to India, and I look forward to continuing my service to Mali in this new role. While this new position will take me away from my friends in and around Oueléssébougou, it will give me the opportunity to improve the lives of all Malians across the country and abroad. ”

This opportunity is just simply amazing! We are emboldened by the vote of confidence shown by the Malian government. I am so proud of Yeah and all he has done and continues to do to make Mali a better place. I have not met a more honest man or one that is very committed to making an impact for all his people in Mali. We are so grateful for all our supporters who have stayed the course with us. Our success today is in part due to your vote of confidence and support for all we do.

The journey to achieve a new Mali is not over yet. In fact, we have started a new phase. Keep you posted. Thank you for helping bless our people in Mali. May you be blessed!

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* Check out our work in Mali through the Empower Mali Foundation at www.empowermali.org
Want to help impact change in rural Mali? Make a tax deductible donation today. All donations online are secure. Checks can also be sent to Empower Mali, P.O Box 708514, Sandy, UTAH 84070.

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MOVING MALI FORWARD

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Past Posts

 

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Empowering Change

Stats about MALI

With one the poorest, most illiterate economies, Mali has already been served the grittiest of challenges. With challenges in many domains ranging from health to education, daily living seems impossible. So how do Malians manage?

4+ years on the ground in Mali has allowed me to truly see and understand the many challenges Malians face each day, especially in the remote rural villages. I have big respect for the people of Mali. They make the best of what they have. And they possess a desire to improve their circumstances. This is evident when we see villagers traveling for days from remote areas coming to request our foundation Empower Mali to help build a school or presenting a project in clean water. They come with the knowledge and willingness to participate financially. During the project, there are many hands involved from every community group in the village. And when the project is completed, each and every person celebrates knowing that their lives and the lives of their children will be just a little better for it.

Through Empower Mali, some great work to empower our communities is happening in Mali! And it would be impossible without generous hearts willing to help make a difference.

ThankyouWatkinsFamily2We have some Big News! Empower Mali has received a generous tractor and 3-classroom middle school donation by the Watkins Family of Alpine, Utah. We are grateful for their long-term investment in our communities. Their tractor donation will be used as part of our food security program in the region of Ouelessebougou and their school donation will help build the Micah Shea Watkins Academy in the village of Dongorona. The rural village of Dongorona is situated in the community of Oueléssébougou, Mali. With a population of 1300 households, there are 260 children currently attending primary and middle school. Many more have dropped out after 6th grade. The primary school, built in 1981, houses grades 1-6 and currently has 200 children, of which 36 are in the final 6th grade. Currently 60 children will walk the 12 miles each day to attend the neighboring middle school in Simidji. The road they walk is a main road which is continuously busy with many buses/cars/trucks travelling dangerously fast. Many parents in the village have withdrawn their girls because of fear of having them walk that long distance alone. A school in the village will give these girls an equal chance at an education and prevent early marriages. We hope to have this middle school ready for the children when school starts in October. Read more about this amazing donation here

We are also grateful for the kind donation of a potable water treatment system through Utah based Alpine Technical Services and AllChem. The system which will be installed in Dongorona will provide 1300+ households with clean water and ultimately a healthier life.

These past few months we have also been focused on finishing up the three classroom middle school, computer room and teachers housing for the remote village of Falla. We are now at roof level and in the next couple of months we will be putting on the roof and painting. This school too will be ready for the new school year in October.

June_Falla

The three classroom middle school, computer and teachers housing in FALLA

So many exciting things are happening !! A big shout out on behalf of our people in Mali to each and every one of you who have helped empower our communities in Mali.

 

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2015 in Past Posts

 

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Building a future in FALLA

Marissa_FirstbrickFALLAThe joy in Falla is immense.

The excitement palpable.

The investment in Falla’s future generation immeasurable.

And YOU made it possible !

February 7th, 2015 will be a day that will be remembered for a long time by the citizens of the village of Falla. On this day, I was honored to represent all our kind donors as we laid the foundation stone of the Falla Academy. This middle school was only made possible because of the generosity of our supporters, friends and family.

Thank you for making this dream a reality and helping us on our mission to educate Mali one village at a time!

Falla, which has a population of 1,587 children is a 6 hour dusty and bumpy ride from the main city of Bamako. It is a very remote village located in the circle of Kolondieba in the Sikasso region.

Currently, there is a primary school in the village. After 6th grade, some children will walk 7-12 KM to middle schools in the neighboring villages of Touloula, Sikoro, Donkerila and Tiekongo. The long distance is a deterrent and many children drop out after 6th grade with many girls getting married and many boys working in the mines or farms.

With all middle schools our foundation Empower Mali builds, the village is required to show their commitment by providing 20% of the cost of the school and the land. The people of Mali do not want a hand out and with it sustainable development becomes impossible. The village commitment was fulfilled by Falla born Mamadou Kone, a Malian entrepreneur who now resides in the US. The remaining funding will be provided through our foundation Empower Mali. USD 50,000.00 was donated through a generous individual who wishes anonymity and the remainder through the kindness of other individual donors.

The event was attended by all the educational authorities in the area, a Parliament Member from the area and the entire village. The village chief, on behalf of his village, expressed their full support for the success of this project. The 3-classroom school when completed will house about (150) 7th-9th grade students from Falla and surrounding areas.

We are grateful for all who contributed to making this school a reality for the people of Falla. Construction should last about 3 months with the school being used for the new school year in October 2015.

In a country where literacy hangs dangerously low at 31%, this school will become an equal opportunity life changer for boys and girls in the area giving them a chance to finish at least their 9th grade exams, which is a basic requirement for most decent paying jobs and a rarity for most children and adults.

Education MaliThe groundbreaking ceremony was also covered on Mali’s National TV ORTM. You can watch it at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpIM6bngN8I

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in Past Posts

 

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Educating Fala

2014-11-09 23.38.30IMG_0099Every morning, at the crack of dawn, there is a buzz of activity on the outskirts of the village of Fala. Every morning, young boys aged 12 and over, ropes slung over their back where bags should be will walk to the unapproved mines on the outskirts of Fala to begin their 10 hour shift. Mali remains the third biggest producer of gold in Africa producing close to 50 tonnes per year. Much of this gold money will never reach many of the people that work on the ground. So why do it? Because for these inhabitants of Fala, this is the only option.

The residents of Fala, like many villages in Mali, are fighting to make ends meet. They understand and see the power of an education when they see the better life of people in the city, but what are they to do. Where others have schools, they have mines. So they do what they must do to survive.

Meeting with the village leaders and parents of Fala, their plea is uniform when they ask Empower Mali to help bring a middle school to their village. The school will keep their young boys from the mine and give them an opportunity to break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty. The middle school will save their girls from early marriages. When you invest in a school in Fala, you are not investing in a building. You are investing in a life which then has the capacity to impact a generation in the village.

Empower Mali ( empowermali.org) is a 501c3 foundation. We want to bless our children in Mali with opportunities but those cannot happen without donations. We build our schools to last many generations and for a lot less than the government. The school is a shared investment that the village continues to take care of because they contribute 20% of the cost and all land and labor.

We are trying to raise the final $8000.00 we need to make a 3-classroom middle school a reality for the village of Fala.

Check out our campaign to raise the final 8K. We have some fun, ethnic Malian gifts for those who donate. They are limited so hurry!

Whatever you can spare this holiday season will help impact the lives of 1587 children and a village for generations. And your donation is tax deductible.

Check it out at. The campaign will end November 23rd, 2014, so please make your donation soon.

Please donate and/or pass the word at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/build-a-school-in-the-village-of-fala-mali/x/8821378

PerksforFala

THE FUN PERKS YOU CAN CHOOSE FROM:

For $25, a beautiful Malian beaded necklace

For $50, a handcrafted Mother and Child statue –Handcrafted by artisan Pascal Mounkourou, this beautiful statue is a reflection of this Christmas season. It represents Mother Mary and Jesus–the reason for the season.

For $100, an authentic Malian Bambara mask: Ritual and ceremonial masks are an essential feature of the traditional culture and art of the peoples of Mali. Masks usually have a spiritual and religious meaning and they are used in ritual dances and social and religious events, and a special status is attributed to the artists that create masks and to those that wear them in ceremonies. In most cases, mask-making is an art that is passed on from father to son, along with the knowledge of the symbolic meanings conveyed by such masks.

All the masks we have are handcrafted by Malian artisans and are a beautiful reflection of a deeply traditional culture.

For $200, an intricately designed hunter “doso” statue: Equipped with a bag of arrows, this intricately carved hunter statue by artisan Pascal Mounkourou is a representation of Mali’s hunters. During ancient times, hunting was one of the biggest professions ( after farming) among the Malian men. The hunters of Mali are still a celebrated group in their communities and Mali. These traditional hunters are called “dozo” in Bambara. It is believed that the amulets (In Bambara: gris-gris) worn by Dozos possess magical properties protecting them from harm, and amplifying their vision and hearing. Such amulets are said to make them bulletproof.  The design is so intricate on this one that each statue takes 3 days to make.

These make for some great holiday gifts for your friends and family! And every dollar raised goes to the middle school in FALA.

Education is the pathway to opportunity and we want to bring opportunity and hope to our children in Mali.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2014 in Past Posts

 

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A celebration in Ferekoroba

Education of Girls in MALI Since 1956, the village of Ferekoroba, Mali has seen only two of its daughters attain college degrees. Since 1956, the village has had many of its boys and many more of its girls drop out of school after 6th grade. In fact, Ferekoroba is one of the many villages whose inhabitants contribute to Mali’s disastrous 31% literacy rate.

More than 1500 people flocked to the village of Ferekoroba to celebrate its big day. On April 19th, 2014, the village of Ferekoroba witnessed two firsts. On one hand, they witnessed their first and only middle school in the village made possible through a kind donation from the foundation Building Youth Around the World, the Empower Mali foundation and the Mayor’s office of Ouélessébougou ( who donated the village’s portion). On the other hand, for the first time in the village’s history, a minister from the government stepped foot on Ferekoroba soil. This joyous inauguration was attended by the Minister of Education, Madame Togola Jacqueline Marie NANA and her delegation consisting of the school authorities of the region, the local school authorities and her cabinet chief. This was a big day for the village of Ferekoroba as they witnessed their dreams for their future solidified through this new middle school. The village currently only has a primary school initially built in 1956 to which classes were added in 1976 by Peace Corp. So no new educational structure was added in the last 38 years. Currently, to attend middle school, many children will walk 3-7 km along dusty, unpaved roads to neighboring villages of Seguessona, Ouelessebougou and Tamala.

The event was also attended by two members of the Building Youth Around the World foundation who had donated $50,000 towards construction of a fully equipped 3-classroom middle school, office block and 6 latrines. Executive Director Ian McCracken and his son Braedon traveled all the way to Mali from Utah to help dedicate this school to their chosen village of Ferekoroba. This middle school falls in line with BYAW’s mission to help strengthen opportunities for disadvantaged youth all around the globe. We are blessed that BYAW would choose Mali to help bring education to our children here. While they were here, Ian and Braedon McCracken also donated backpacks with school supplies to each middle school child and also solar lamps to the Chief of the village, his second in command and the School Director.

The Minister of Education and her delegation was so impressed with the quality of the school and the spaciousness of the classrooms as well as the equipment within. In addition, the classrooms were cooler allowing for relief for the students from the hot Malian sun. Currently the government of Mali builds schools for a lot more money and they are more cramped and don’t last long falling into disrepair. The Minister stated that Empower Mali was a great partner to the Ministry of Education in Mali. She expressed hope that Empower Mali would continue to work to make education a reality for all, boys and girls and also expressed great interest in continuing to support our work in Mali.

The role Empower Mali plays in education in Mali is unique. When we build our schools, they are self sustainable. By getting the village to pay towards the school with land, labor and a portion of the costs, the village is making a commitment. When you give a hand out, the impact is lost. In addition, our close ties with the Ministry of Education allows us to equip our schools with teachers paid for by the government. There are many NGOs that will build schools in Mali, but then those buildings sit empty because there are no teachers present to teach in the villages. Our approach is unique and our goal is to empower our villages to lift themselves out of poverty.

Since 2004, Yeah has helped bring 19 schools to Mali. Not a small number. 19 communities whose lives have improved and will continue to improve for generations to come because of one man’s commitment to making access to education a reality for all children in Mali.

In Mali, education is a gift and access to education is something we are fighting for , so all our children may have an opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. This school will help the village of Ferekoroba break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy that has become commonplace.

The entire event was amazing and so special that it was covered on Mali National TV ORTM. You can view the coverage here: http://youtu.be/ZLP6fprX-qE

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2014 in Past Posts

 

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Beyond Right And Wrong

“In the stillness after conflict, after the blood dries and the screams fade, the memory of violence transforms survivors into prisoners of their own pain. How do whole societies recover from devastating conflict? Can survivors live—converse, smile, and even laugh—beside someone who blinded them, killed their parents, or murdered their children? Can victims and perpetrators work together to rebuild their lives? This life-changing documentary explores the intersections of justice and forgiveness as survivors heal from these tragedies.”–About the documentary Beyond Right and Wrong

Back in 2012, Mali experienced the peak of instability as a coup destabilized the country. But the coup was just the tipping point. For years, Mali’s North and South have failed to find a common ground. The failure is not on one side but a mish mash of ill feelings, insecurities and economic inequality. The North feels marginalized with no opportunities for a successful future. It is mainly this that pushes them to want separation from Mali. The South feels the North does not deserve this opportunity and that too many things are simply afforded them without them working for it. And so it continues that the two sides of Mali are in dis-accord. It is at this critical time that for the future prosperity, Mali needs to bring all sides to the table and have a national dialogue. Losses have been felt on both sides and nothing that happens now can take away the pain of lost lives and lost opportunities. However, if dialogue and reconciliation do not happen, Mali will remain broken. The power of this great country is not in one side or the other. Peace and prosperity can only come from an understanding between both sides of the table.

Kweku Mandela and Yeah Samake

Kweku Mandela and Yeah Samake

This documentary ‘Beyond Right And Wrong’ first came to our attention when Yeah attended the Sundance screening attended by Nelson Mandela’s grandson Kweku Mandela, who was promoting the film for his own charity. The lessons of the film speak true to what Mali and Africa truly needs from its future leaders and its citizens. Empower Mali is joining forces with Kweku Mandela and FilmRaise to bring attention to this amazing documentary on the lessons learned from past conflicts that have ripped countries and called into question the very meaning of humanity. This is what Mali needs. True dialogue can lead to true reconciliation. It’s where wants and needs must be put aside in favor of the bigger picture. It is not the easiest thing to do when you have lost someone you loved or can’t feed your family because of the situation. But it is the most crucial step that Mali will need to take to move forward.

So I ask you to take some time and watch this movie. It is powerful and the most heart wrenching film but it makes you truly ask yourself whether you can live the meaning of forgiveness.

FilmRaise has kindly agreed to donate $500 to our charity Empower Mali for every 1000 views we get. 10000 views can help us build a school. The power to impact change just got a little easier. All funds raised will be used to help Empower Mali continue impacting our people on the ground.

Watch it at: http://www.filmraise.com/beyond-right-and-wrong/empower-mali/ that detail the real stories below.

BeyondRighAndWrong_EmpowerMali

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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Past Posts

 

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An example in Citizenship

When Yeah first took office as Mayor in 2009, the city of Ouelessebougou,made of its more than 44000 members, were frustrated with their local government. In fact they were so frustrated that they had stopped paying taxes. In many cases, the money that had been paid in taxes was abused by the then Mayor to build houses and buy cars. The result was a growing discontent with the Mayor’s office and a failing city that was as non-progressive as the whole country. Furthermore, since there was no tax money, that meant teachers at schools and the staff at the Mayor’s office could not get paid and in many cases this led to the heightened corruption among city officials so they could support their families.

When Yeah took office, he ran and was elected on a promise to root out the corruption that was plaguing the city. In June 2009, less than 10% of people were paying their taxes and Ouelessebougou was the 699th out of 703 cities in terms of development. Through gradually displaying to people that taxes linked directly to better services, Yeah was able to encourage the people of Ouelessebougou to begin and continue paying their taxes. Since then, the collected tax money has allowed employees at the Mayors office to be paid on time, paid for repairs on schools in the area, provided school supplies, helped build better facilities in many villages and encouraged a general good will towards Ouelessebougou from many businesses and NGOs. Many NGOs and businesses are knocking on Ouelessebougou’s doors seeing the success, transparency and ease of doing business. By 2011, 68% of people were paying taxes and Ouelessebougou moved to the top ten cities in terms of transparency and economic development.

Fast forward to 2014. This is the last year of Yeah’s first term as Mayor. This year, the Mayor’s office decided to do something different to acknowledge the great work that the different villages in the community of Ouelessebougou were doing to make sure that their taxes were paid on time. The Mayor’s office partnered with a local organization called PACT ( Programme d’Appui aux Collectivités Territoriales/Support Programme for Local Authorities) to publicly acknowledge and celebrate the community’s success at paying their taxes. Part of this Citizenship Day called on a public paying of taxes by all leaders of the community ( village chiefs, Mayor, Deputies, Local Chief of the Police, Chief of Customs in Ouelessebougou etc). It is said that actions speak louder than words and what better way to encourage and support tax payment than to publicly pay one’s taxes. In just one day, the city of Ouelessebougou collected over $3000 just from the community leaders. In addition, independent consultants reported a tax collection rate of 100.74 % ( the number being this high also because some people back paid their taxes from 2009). An additional surprise was the acknowlegement by the Government of Mali who sent their Mininster of Decentralization, Malick Alhoussein, to represent the government at this important event. When the Minister spoke, he publicly acknowledged Yeah’s efforts in truly practicing decentralization and turning Ouelessebougou into an example of a well managed city. He praised the efforts of the different village chiefs and also the people of Ouelessebougou for setting an example for the rest of the country.

These efforts are plain to see in the development that is springing up all over Ouelessebougou. From clean running water to clean energy and from infrastructure like factories, stadium enclosures, a new high school and a new hospital, Ouelessebougou will soon become a dream city for many in Mali. And this all is possible because one man said enough was enough and then showed his people how to manage their money honestly into development. Ouelessebougou is breaking all boundaries on development and showing the rest of Mali how it should be done. I am very proud to be the First Lady of this great city!

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in Past Posts

 

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