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Sonya Paterson's Fact-finding trip to Honduras following the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch.

Report by International Orphans Support Group of Canada
Mon, 25 Jan 1999 22:30:24 -0800
"Paul McCurdy" <>

Hi Stephen,
I recently met this lovely lady, Sonja Paterson, who is interested in
helping out the kids down in Honduras. She was previously involved in
helping Orphans in Russia and Romania (and hardly made a penny from it, not
like some lawyers I've heard about). She wrote a report about her trip to
Honduras in December. I was wondering if you'd be interested in putting it
up on your site. I've attached both plain text and rich text formats, or can
supply it in MS Word, Lotus WordPro or Wordperfect formats. Also, there were
some pictures and a table of stats. that were lost when she sent it to me. I
can send it again after finding out where they went, if you're interested in

Sonya Paterson's Fact-finding trip to Honduras following the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch.

To Whom it may concern,
The following report clearly documents my recent fact-finding trip to Honduras following the aftermath of
Hurricane Mitch. Though we are concerned for the entire country and Honduran people, our organization's
focus is to support children. We look forward to any support you may offer and hearing from you.

Sonya Paterson
International Orphans Support Group of Canada
#505-8840-210th Street
Langley, B.C. V1M 2Y2
Phone: (604) 888-4053 Fax: (604) 882-2966
Toll Free: 1-877-222-4405

Tax receipts will be issued for income tax purposes.


Honduras Report - December 8 - 23, 1998

Poverty, extreme poverty, illiteracy, street children, child labor, and now, "MITCH". Survival is more
difficult for those without hope, work or the ability to provide food for their family. The children are the
first to suffer often through abuse, abandonment or being put to work. In Honduras, children are the first
victims of a system that compels a child to begin working far too young. Poverty and orphans existed
before the hurricane of 1998.

"Mitch's" name, short yet mighty, left a path of destruction so significant that no city, town or village was
left unaffected in all of Honduras. With a population of 5.8 million, more than a million Hondurans are now
homeless. 73% of the population lived in poverty, 54% in extreme poverty before the hurricane. The rate of
illiteracy is 73% and 54% of the population is made up of single mothers and their children.

Today the poverty level is escalating out of control and the quality of life is decreasing as the country's
morale drops to an all time low. The National Center of Hurricanes in Miami confirmed that Mitch was the
most powerful hurricane that has hit Central America in the last decade. Winds exceeded 285 kilometers
per hour and there was precipitation of 25 inches of rain over the entire national territory.


My visit to Honduras was 5 weeks after the hurricane. The smell of the wet river sand was enough to make
me turn away and cover my face. Rotten fish would best describe the odor of my backpack which had been
briefly placed on the sand while I was taking pictures.

Standing at river level I felt tiny and insignificant next to uprooted trees and large chunks of concrete that
had floated effortlessly down the river taking out bridges and buildings, but now lay scattered in mud
puddles or embedded into the bridge, the railings torn and plugged with debris, tree roots, concrete and
metal all entwined.

As I stood looking up the river bank where the water had gorged the hillside, I was approached by a man
who spoke English. He pointed to a water line about 30' higher than the rivers present depth and said
"That's how high Hurricane Fife brought the water level 24 years ago, but look here!" He turned and
pointed 2 blocks up the steep hill. "In just over 1 hour the water rose to the entrance of my house, people
were not prepared, their homes were destroyed. Thank you for coming. We are very grateful for the support
Honduras has received, it will take at least 25 years to rebuild." He shook my hand and I promised I would
go home to tell his story and let Canadians know the Hondurans are full of hope and strong faith, but for
the homeless living in temporary shelters, their days are marked on the calendar, they must move, but
where and how?


The reality of the devastation inflicted upon the Hondurans was shared with me by a young woman of
Tegucigalpa as she showed me her greatest treasure, a salvaged photo album bearing the photos of her
husband and her only son, victims of the raging river, Oct 31st, 1998. She weeps as she points to a
photo of her family in front of a quaint little house. Suddenly she thrust her hands out so my eyes would
follow to the shabby mattress surrounded by her few personal belongings, neatly piled and covered with a

As hard as I tried, my cheeks were soon warm with my tears, tears of understanding but also of shame.
Shame that I had only my camera to take her picture and could do nothing else on that day, so I hugged her
and allowed her to cry on my shoulder. She said she wished she had died and doesn't believe she has a

This message was translated time and time again as I visited shelter after shelter. There were 170 shelters in
Tegucigalpa after the hurricane , some held as many as 400 families. The fortunate few who have found
homes with friends or family have gone now but there remains 130 shelters, the largest holding 200
families. Dec 31, 1998 marks 8 weeks since the storm hit the capital city of Tegucigalpa. A tragic day
whose effects will be felt for decades to come.


Fear, a small word but easily read in the eyes of a child. No language translation necessary. My second
day in Tegucigalpa brought fear, clouds so black and large it seemed I was at the edge of the world.
Sudden high winds and rapid temperature decline were suggestive of an impending storm. As we sat in the
director of CARITAS office he seemed calm as we discussed the distribution of humanitarian aid in
Honduras and problems related to road and bridge damage. I looked out the window and watched the
people hurrying home, walking quickly as possible up the hill against the wind. I felt their concern.

Later I went to visit my adopted shelter. A sign hung on the door read "Project Hope". This shelter was
home to 110 people; over 50 percent of them are children. Jose, Carlos, Jorge, Miguel, Maria, Fernando
and brother Manuel. Everyday I bought treats for my new friends, a small gift of fresh cookies, white buns
and pound cakes all warm and fresh from a bakery only a block away, but a real treat for my friends who
had lost everything. The Caritas Catholic Church organization in Honduras supports and controls the
distribution of humanitarian aid to the shelters providing the bare essentials of beans, rice and corn flour.

This day because of the storm I decided to take special gifts delivered to me shortly before I left by a few
good hearted Langley citizens, Arleen and Pete Pettit and their very generous granddaughters Cristina (10),
Justine (6) and Barbara (2) who brought toys to give to the children in Honduras who lost everything.

The girls proudly told me they were giving up their presents so others could have gifts instead. As I gave
little Damien a couple of toy cars he snuggled in closely to me and wrapped my arm around his shoulders.
A simple gesture but profound, we were friends now; he had stolen my heart.

He looked up at me and together we listened to the wind blow through the broken windows of "Project
Hope", we didn't need a translator, we understood each other. Fortunately I had 3 boxes of Snickers
donated by a kind hearted man from Langley named Kurt. He sent them home with my husband David and
told him to see that some special KIDS were given the chocolate bars. Well Kurt, some special kids got
them and their smiles and appreciation are bigger than any Christmas gift you could ever imagine.


I met two little girls, Gabriella 10 and her sister Miriam, wise beyond her 4 years of age, selling socks in
the open market. They were curious about me and my camera, but I was equally curious about them. They
followed me down the street and chatted away with Ophelia, my interpreter I had hired about 5 days into
the trip. It was getting dark, about 7 pm. I asked if they had eaten today, they looked at each other as if
surprised by my question, then said "No". Miriam had a special toy all wrapped up in an old bathing suit, a
doll I presumed, but my inspection proved wrong. It was a treasured empty pop bottle.

My heart sank, if only I had some toys, so I looked at Ophelia and explained I couldn't leave without giving
them something!. I looked around, no one was watching, it appeared safe. I selected a 100 limpera note
(about $8 U.S.) and handed it to Gabriella. Instantly, little Miriam grasped her tiny fingers around it and
neither would let go. I held my breath, I was sure that it would rip in half. Ophelia told them it was for both
and they should share. A quick glance my way, big smiles, "Gracias!" and they were gone. I told Ophelia,
"I hope they buy something good with it," and she nodded in agreement.

Walking back to the hotel that evening, my thoughts focused on another child I'd met earlier that day.
Ophelia and I had been searching for a bank that cashed travelers checks when I spotted a small boy out of
the corner of my eye. He was all alone sitting on the sidewalk. It was the jar of a yellow sticky substance he
was closely examining that caught my eye. Glue, a street child's friend. A substance used to lessen their
pain, escape from reality and quiet constant hunger pangs.

My first thought was to take it from him, but what could I trade him for it? My backpack was empty. Next
thought, "Give him money. No!" He'd only buy more glue!

I visualized him wearing clean clothes, running in a field laughing and playing with children his own age.
Suddenly his eyes met mine and I realized he was only about 8 years old, once again I found myself in the
position of not being able to do anything but walk away. As I got closer to my hotel that evening, the same
question rolled over and over in my head, "What can I do?"


The events of the day before led me back to the office of Casa Aliens in Tegucigalpa. I needed to learn
more about their project and discuss with Alvaro Coned R. the National Director of Casa Aliens my
concerns for the lack of accurate information and statistics on the children living in Honduras.

The hurricane had created an urgent need for statistics. How can you report accurate information on the
population when so many of the country's people fall into categories of unregistered population, eg. street
people, street children, orphaned and abandoned children. Now over a million people remain homeless.

Many fear the next few months will prove thousands of children have been orphaned. Others could be
abandoned because parents or relatives are to poor to feed them or themselves. Alvaro told me, "The people
presently living in the shelters have not reported orphans and those who are not in shelters, well, we don't
know". My ability to establish facts on orphaned children living in Honduras was remaining the most
difficult question.


Children, more specifically street children easily fall through the cracks as the book, "Report on the Torture
of Street Children in Guatemala and Honduras", which was given to me by Alvaro clearly portrays. This
book states "Street children share with everyone the most fundamental right, the right to life. They should
be protected by law, not murdered in its name?"

During the past few years, the levels of abuse against street children have grown to the point where Casa
Aliens felt it important to document these abuses.

Most street children have some family links but spend most of their lives on the streets selling trinkets,
shining shoes or washing cars to supplement their family's income. The remaining children live in the
streets, often in a group with other children. Known as "street children", they sleep in abandoned buildings,
under bridges, in door ways, or in public parks. Most are addicted to inhalants. They face a future of
begging, stealing, prostitution, children having children, chronic illness, AIDS transmitted through rape and
often violence and death.

Casa Aliens organization has chosen to focus its resources on offering these children the option to
improve their lives by offering free sanctuary, rehabilitation services, vocational training, and legal aid.
Casa Aliens also works with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch/Americas, SOS Torture and
other human rights organizations and individuals throughout the world who support the street children's


My visit to the temporary home of the Casa Aliens kids proved to be very interesting. The first boy I saw
was "Carlos". He was 12 and full of beans. I presented him a gift, a Langley Canada Days red ball cap! He
posed for me in front of their Christmas arrangement giving me a double thumbs up!

Martin Miguel Brennan, an American volunteer, greeted me at the door and offered me a tour and insight
into what life was like working with 40 street-wise boys and 8 girls. "Keeps you on your toes," he said.
"This is a temporary shelter, their previous home was completely destroyed." He allowed me to video his
explanation of their daily routine and showed me some of the kids in the process of making Christmas

He emphasized the importance of teaching the children basic life skills, how to accept new challenges,
improve self esteem and for the volunteers, the importance of being able to accept their world and
challenges that come with the package. His connection with them was obvious. They responded to
him well, he was their mentor and friend; not everyone could fit into these kids world.

I was called to an activity room for a performance, a rap tune they had written about life at Casa Aliens. I
didn't understand all the words, but I picked up on the beat, a positive energy. They have a life now, a
protector, a direction, they the kids are A-okay.

As I was leaving a few of the boys brought back the items they had taken from my back pack, my
disposable syringes, my travel doctor had given me, a pen and a red bandana. Martin gave the kids "the
glare", I couldn't help but laugh at them all. Carlos handed me the red cap and wanted to trade for
the bandana, they all wanted bandanas so before long my friends at Casa Aliens will get a parcel from
Canada of 100 bandanas!


I met Jorge Valladares, the Executive Director of IHNFA (Institute for Families and Children in Honduras),
IHNFA is the closest government state structure equivalent to our Social Services System and yet they do
not have the system to report accurate statistics on the children in Honduras. He agreed now, more than
ever an information center was desperately needed. The hurricane has left thousands of broken families.
He told me they do not have confidence in the accuracy of their reports. As of our meeting on
December 21, 1998 their official reports stated there are only 50 orphans in all of Honduras, 7 in

Mr. Valladares informed me 35% of the Country's schools were demolished, even the Ministry of
Education and all records were completely destroyed. "The families who are living in the temporary
shelters, many of these shelters are schools and they must leave them by the end of January", he
said. "These families will be relocated to area's outside of the city, and those who came from farms will be
invited to go back". I asked "How will they survive, what will they build homes with, what will they eat?'
He looked at me with an impish grim; obviously I wasn't supposed to ask that! He said.. "For now, this is
all there is to offer" My response to him again surprised him. "What if they don't go. He said, "I really
don't know, we will have to wait and see. So again I see the future remains uncertain and the crisis is only


Judith Banegas, a Honduras lawyer who recently set up a Honduran organization to provide shelter for
homeless children and families in Tocoa, a city on the east coast between La Ceiba and Trujillo, says
already reports are being heard of homeless children being taken in and used as slaves. She told me in
Arecina (municipality of Tocoa) there are many orphans.

Padre Andreus, a priest living in Tocoa, was more despondent when I spoke to him. He told me he has
tried to take several homeless children recently to some orphanage projects near Tocoa and in Trujillo but
was turned away. He said there is no where to take the children, homes are needed but you must obtain
approval from IHNFA because it's illegal to place them in any orphanage or home without approval. . The
time delay results in a growing street children population which is anticipated to spiral out of control
over the next few months because of the homeless population created by the hurricane.


Bruce Harris is the Executive Director of Casa Aliens for Central America, I had the privilege of meeting
him and helping him with the delivery of 15,000 teddy bears collected by Paul Flynn and Andrew Kiely of

Bruce Harris put out the request for donated TEDDY BEARS on the Internet and Paul Flynn a lawyer
from Tipperary, a town in Ireland saw the article and leaped into action. Together with his good friend
Andrew Kiely they collected and shipped by container 15,000 new and used Teddy Bears. I came into the
picture a few days before their arrival and offered to help, Thursday December 18, 1998. They filled 2
rooms of the Tegucigalpa University with TEDDY BEARS, wall to wall and over 2 feet deep in rooms
about 24' x 14'. As I tried to walk through the bears to throw them forward I tripped, flipped and realized I
was toast, buried beneath thousands of bears in Tegucigalpa. I began to laugh hysterically and a few
others decided a break and bear fight was in order! Bruce let us leave about half an hour later at 11.30 pm,
he realized we had all gone BEAR CRAZY!


At 6 am we were back at the University to set up for the great GIVEAWAY. Two 14' triangular Teddy
Bear tree's adorned the stage. Workers had been hired to work overnight and the end result was trees
decorated with bears. Our job was to somehow display the rest of the bears. 2 « hours later it looked
spectacular, wall to wall bears and thousands of children giggling excitedly as they jabbed each other and
pointed to a selected winner of their heart. Children filled the arena arriving as early as 8 am. The children
were all invited from the shelters and several came up to me to say hello. I guess a healthy blonde Canadian
is easy to spot!!

The event started out fine enough as eager children raced and grabbed a bear (and another) then scampered
back to their seats grinning from ear to ear. Next thing I saw was Teddy Bears whirling through the air,
10, 20 - 50, Whoa! What now? Well, simply put, the rule was 1 bear to each child so the extra's had to be
given back. One of those uncalculated experiences that got worse before better. I left shortly after the
whole stage was swarmed by a crowd of kids "BEAR CRAZED' but Paul told me the next day they did get
control of it again!

I snapped a few pictures of kids leaving with bears stuffed in their pants and shirts, under each arm and
their faces illuminated in a "BEAR GLOW!!" The next day when I visited my "Project Hope" shelter I was
greeted by two radiant little girls each hugging a purple Casa Aliens Bear dressed in baby clothes and I
decided the Teddy Bear Drop was 'BEARY SUCCESSFUL!"


I visited four separate homes for children, each was equally different. In the end this provided me with a
much fuller picture of life for abandoned or orphaned children of Honduras.

Ben Caleth: Institute for Handicapped Children Tegucigalpa This institute had 23 children aged from 1 year
3 months to 19 years old. Johnny was the oldest and he caught my attention as I entered the room. He was
attempting to straighten himself in his wheelchair. His 10 year old friend Luis helped raise his head
forward, then straightened his arm. Team effort, mission accomplished! Johnny posed for me while I took
his picture. His smile afterwards acknowledged his appreciation of my attention to him. I hugged him and
told him I would send the photo later, he smiled. Carolina was a beautiful little girl, 6 years old who lived
there. Her mother was a single parent who came to visit her often. When I asked her what she would like
for Christmas, she smiled and said, "I would like to learn to read."

Rafael Domingues, Director of Ben Caleth was concerned about the future of the institute because most of
their previous financial support came from the local businesses. Now the corporate sector is responsible for
the support of the entire country and many businesses have suffered complete financial ruin, leaving their
future support uncertain. He expressed the need for about two thousand dollars US a month to cover basic
expenses. His biggest dream, however, is to receive a donated wheelchair accessible van. My colleague,
Colin McNaughten who was in Honduras at the time, was so moved by the children of Ben Caleth, he
reached into his pocket and handed Raphael a $100 bill. We were only two days into our trip, I told Colin,
"Be careful, or you'll be broke in a week!" His trip was booked for 5 weeks and he would cover Honduras,
El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, following the delivery of containers of humanitarian aid sent by
Universal Aid Society.


Shortly before I left Canada, CBC National News featured a story about El Hogar and it's Canadian
Director, Pastor David Winsor from the orphanage in Tegucigalpa which he and his wife have been
supporting for over 20 years. This was the first story I'd seen in the news that actually addressed the issue
of how the hurricane has affected the children.

El Hogar's Mission Statement
The purpose of El Hogar is to provide a loving home and education in a Christian environment for
abandoned, orphaned and hopelessly poor boys, enabling them to fulfill their ultimate potential as
productive human beings in Honduras.

The El Hogar project is a home for 185 boys, 150 who presently are sponsored financially, 35 still await
sponsorship. The Project's primary focus is to provide education and technical training. They are very
organized and definitely make a difference in the lives of many children. I was most impressed with the
sewing classes the boys received. Pastor Winsor agreed to come to Langley in January to speak at Langley
Senior Secondary when I told him how the students had organized a blue ribbon fundraiser for El Hogar in
early December.

I was grateful to have met this couple. They had a wealth of information from both a Canadian and
Honduran perspective. It is extremely important to be able to see both sides. It's often easier to assume
certain help or assistance is needed but the reality is we forget other culture's needs are different than our

The El Hogar Projects are sponsored by the Episcopal Church and supported entirely by private donations.
It is run by two North American Executive Directors, a Honduran director and a complete Honduran staff.
El Hogar de Amor y Esperanze (known as El Hogar) and the Technical Institute are located in the
sprawling capital city of Tegucigalpa. The Agriculture school is about 45 minutes outside of the city, near
Telanga, in the quiet rolling hills of the country side. El Hogar Projects are always accepting volunteer
applications for individuals or work teams (maximum 15).

"Love and hope, these are the key ingredients to success anywhere and are especially essential when
children begin life without them. El Hogar de Amor y Esperanza provides both in large measure thank to
dedicated, loving people and generous, concerned contributors. The boys who call El Hogar home have a
real chance to grow physically and spiritually, and finally, to fulfill their potential for happy, productive
lives." Gwyn Creagan, Wife of US Ambassador to Honduras.


New Paradise is being developed as a rural community for single mothers and their children. This
community is the vision of Sister Marie Rosa, one of Honduras greatest humanitarians. She has built over
200 orphanages in Honduras and raised over 32,000 orphans during her fifty years of service. Five years
ago, the vision of providing a safe community for single mothers and their children became a reality when
over 2000 acres were donated to her project.

She had realized as long as she continued to build orphanages, the mothers would continue to bring their
children and then leave only to have more. She wanted to create a place where it is possible for women to
re-establish self respect and dignity. Presently she has 38 homes for single mothers and their children.
Mothers work at the project's jam factory and sewing factory. The boys are given carpentry training and
brick manufacturing instruction. There is also a papaya plantation and a small animal farm of pigs,
chickens and cattle.

New Paradise is a town that has emerged from what before was almost a desert. The land is also home to a
small community of integrated families who also work at New Paradise. Sister Marie Rosa has said the
people of Honduras who have lost their homes are welcome on her land, but new homes must be built first.
She also agreed to the idea of building an orphanage for recently orphaned or abandoned children. The
children could be educated at the school in New Paradise, as well it would provide job opportunity for the
single mothers living there.


2 « hours south of Tegucigalpa in Choluteca city only thirty minutes from the Pacific Ocean coast I visited
a cemetery being dug out. The chapel's ceiling was about 25' high and had been completely filled with
mud. Now after weeks of shoveling a few tombstones stood free and clear, the rest still remained covered,
all I could think of is how do they decide where to start?

We carried on over the now mostly dry road to stop in front of the house of a man my interpreter told me
had been trapped by mud inside his house. Several men busily digging as the lucky survivor oversaw the
project and obviously believed he had something to salvage although all I saw was the bare shell of the
foundation remaining.

The wind carries dust, a fine sandy grit in your teeth - dust. Choluteca's considerably hotter and my desire
for water was immediate, but the water is not working in Choluteca an additional problem the hurricane
added to the lives of so many in Honduras. 40% of the population were without access to healthy water
sources before Mitch, now it remains one of Honduras's greatest concerns as temperatures rise over the
coming months

In the Choluteca region 497 people died, 613 people missing and 5, 863 people were wounded.


Factories and plantations gone, jobs eliminated, not a few but thousands! The Country's entire banana
export crop was destroyed representing losses of $1.1 billion U.S., in exports and plantation infrastructure
according to recently released statistics from the National Agriculture Procedures meeting. 70% of the
infrastructure, including 20% of this years coffee crop were destroyed. Coffee, Honduras's largest export
crop also suffered from the loss of entire factories, destroyed as they were filled with mud and debris,
thousands of jobs were eliminated. The estimated loss to the sugar industry was over $5 million dollars.
The damage to the country's infrastructure totaled an estimated $800 million dollars.

The death toll is upwards of 7000 people and over a million have been displaced from their homes. Over
80,000 homes were destroyed, 4,000 in Tegucigalpa alone. Everywhere it seems people are digging.
Digging out their cars only to look at them, and dream perhaps that they will run again.

There were 215 bridges completely destroyed, 47 principal highways received extensive damage. Two
municipalities, Choluteca and Col¢n are considered completely destroyed.

For the estimated 1million people who have been left homeless, desperation is growing.



The International Orphans Support Group of Canada is a Canadian registered charity founded in January
1990 to provide humanitarian relief for institutionalized and orphaned children of the world.

This organization has been able through the generosity of thousands of Canadians and Americans to deliver
medical supplies, medical equipment, food, clothing, toys, educational materials and other supplies valued
at over a million dollars to orphanages in Romania and Russia.

International Orphans Support Group of Canada hopes to be able to duplicate that generosity and has
already delivered some supplies to orphanages and shelters for the now homeless victims of Hurricane
Mitch in Honduras.

The International Orphans Support Group of Canada needs your financial support to provide humanitarian
assistance to the victims of "Mitch", the hurricane of our lifetime that has forever changed the lives of so
many, more so to the most innocent of victims, the children. Our objective is to ensure orphaned and
abandoned children of Honduras are protected.

Your donation will go towards providing a home, food, clothing, medical supplies, toys and education to
children who have been orphaned or abandoned since the hurricane. We intend to support the previously
mentioned projects of El Hogar, Ben Caleth, New Paradise and Casa Aliens. Your donation, more
importantly, will help us to locate the orphaned and abandoned children and to provide them homes before
they become victims of the system and end up on the streets.


Thirty five children presently living at the El Hogar Projects are in need of sponsorship. They can be
sponsored in one of two ways. Either through a $600 annual sponsorship (includes accommodation, food
and clothing) or $900 annually for a full sponsorship (includes accommodation, food, clothing and
technical training). For further information, please contact us.

The twenty three children presently living in Ben Caleth Handicap Institution all require sponsorship. $600
annually per child will include accommodation, food, and clothing.


Several volunteer positions are available for individuals, groups, work teams or youth groups at all the
projects mentioned in our report. Church retreat/volunteer opportunities are available for groups up to 30
or 40 on Sister Marie Rosa's project "New Paradise".

For further information or to make a donation please contact us at:

International Orphans Support Group of Canada
#505-8840-210th Street
Langley, B.C. V1M 2Y2
Phone: (604) 888-4053 Fax: (604) 882-2966
Toll Free: 1-877-222-4405
Tax receipts will be issued for income tax purposes.

Your support is gratefully appreciated,

Sonya Paterson
International Orphans Support Group of Canada  

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