Buddhist Emergency Fund for Rohingya of Burma

A Letter of Appeal from US Buddhist Teachers

We are sending you this request to help with a Buddhist Emergency Fund for the Rohingya of Burma. The Rohingya, an ethnic minority group of the Muslim faith living in Burma, face a dire situation, requiring immediate attention and support. Described by the United Nations as the most persecuted minority on earth, they have been denied citizenship, health care, education, and adequate food while forced to live in harsh and restrictive apartheid-like conditions. One hundred and forty thousand have been forced into squalid camps that have been called open-air prisons.

Many thousands have tried to escape by putting their lives into the hands of human traffickers and heading out to sea. Untold numbers of Rohingya have now been abandoned and left floating in rickety boats without food, water or medical care. Governments in the region and the world have refused to launch a search and rescue mission to save them and some navies have even pulled these desperate people further out to sea.

Because this refugee nightmare is in part due to the policies of Buddhist countries, principally Burma and also Thailand as well as Malaysia and Indonesia, it seems especially important for Buddhists around the world to visibly respond according to the central Buddhist values of compassion and respect for all beings.

This appeal is also inspired by the first Buddhist leadership conference at the White House that was held last week. 120 abbots and diverse leaders from temples and centers of all nationalities and traditions across the U.S. came together to bring Buddhist wisdom and compassionate concern to such problems as climate change, racism, the plight of the Rohingya and relief for Nepal.

Please read the appeal below and send it as widely as you can to the members of your own community and to the leaders of other Buddhist communities whom you know.

We are grateful for your help in this critical time.
PS – The Rohingya are a minority ethnic group of the Muslim faith living in Rakhine State, Burma. Although they have resided there for generations, the Myanmar government refuses to recognize them as citizens and has been subjecting them to a campaign of ethnic cleansing. The Rohingya have been evicted from their lands, required to pay arbitrary taxes and work at forced labor. They have been banned from traveling, getting married without permission or even having more than two children. Since 2012, many have been killed by mobs of Buddhists often incited by Buddhist monks. Now hundreds of thousands have been herded into camps, where they are harshly treated and denied basic human resources such as adequate food and medical care.

Jack Kornfield – Spirit Rock Center
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi – Buddhist Global Relief
William Aiken – Soka Gakkai International
Tara Brach – Insight Meditation Community of Washington
Lama Surya Das – Dzogchen Foundation
Alan Senauke – International Network of Engaged Buddhists
Taigen Dan Leighton – Ancient Dragon Zen Gate
Larry Yang – Founder and Senior Teacher, East Bay Meditation Center
Rev. angel Kyodo williams – Sensei Founder Emeritus and Vision Fellow Transformative Change
Rev. Dr. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki – President, Buddhist Council of New York


Please stand with us and join thousands of Buddhists across the West in responding to the plight of the Rohingya refugees from Burma who are lost at sea after fleeing horrific Apartheid-like conditions and what the US Holocaust Museum has described as “early warning signs of genocide”. Over one hundred and forty thousand have been forced into squalid, inhumane camps that have been described as open-air prisons.

Many thousand Rohingya have been abandoned without food on rickety boats floating on the Andaman Sea and Malacca Straits. Governments in the region and the world have refused to launch a search and rescue mission to save them and some navies have even been pulling these desperate people further out to sea. Pressure on governments to act – including the United States – have been showing initial results but the situation remains dire and a concerted effort is needed to save the many thousands whose lives are at extreme risk.

Your donation will do three things:

(1) Help get immediate food, water and medicine to refugees on the boats, and to those in the camps;

(2) Bring skillful pressure on Burma and neighboring Buddhist and Muslim countries to respond humanely to the immediate crises and save the thousands of Rohingya whose lives are at immediate risk; and

(3) Address the root cause of this crisis – the attacks on and systematic persecution of the Rohingya in Burma – through a comprehensive strategic advocacy campaign.

It will show the world the true values of respect for human life, compassion and loving kindness that are at the heart of Buddhist teachings.

The fund is administered by United To End Genocide – an organization that has proven to be very effective in shining light on the plight of the Rohingya; generating support through skillful advocacy; and building the capacity – while coordinating the efforts – of individuals and organizations who are making a difference within Burma, the region and the world.




Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 2 (of 5)

BGR Staff

5. Cambodia: Food Scholarships for Girls to Stay in School

Lotus Outreach, a trusted BGR partner since 2009, is dedicated to ensuring the education, health, and safety of at-risk and exploited women and children in the developing world, especially in Cambodia. The long-standing BGR-Lotus Outreach partnership provides rice support to primary, secondary, and tertiary students receiving scholarships via the GATE and GATEways programs. This year the grant to GATE will provide rice support to 52 impoverished families so their girls can attend primary and secondary school. The grant will also provide food support to 89 university students enrolled in the GATEways scholarship program–an extension of GATE for those students who go on to higher education.

An extra year of primary school in Cambodia increases a girl’s eventual wages 10-20%; and an extra year of secondary school will boost wages 15-25%. Students enrolled in GATE program are more likely to attend and stay in school, lowering their likelihood of turning to exploitative labor. In 2013, 90% of GATE scholarship recipients passed their exams and advanced to the next level. These girls, chosen from the poorest families, can now look forward to a bright future of hope and opportunity.

6. Cambodia: Non-Formal Education for Former Sex Workers

A clearly happy employee of Vannah!
This ongoing project, also with Lotus Outreach as partner, provides non-formal education and training to girls and women in the sex industry in Cambodia; enabling them to leave the industry. The BGR grant will support 33 of a hundred women seeking skills training. Classes, given 2–3 hours a day for a full year, cover health, literacy, and life skills. The grant will also fund scholarships to three highly motivated students to undertake advanced training and apprenticeships. The children of sex workers living in brothel-based communities are at high risk of entering the sex trade before age 15. The NFE scholarship program provides money for the children to obtain books, bicycles, supplies, and uniforms so they can attend school, thus breaking this vicious cycle.

7. Cambodia: Expanding the System of Rice Intensification

In Cambodia, 80% of the country’s residents are farmers, and the majority of the labor is done by women who are excluded from family decision-making. This project, with long-time BGR partner Rachana, is designed to spread SRI and thereby empower women. Thanks to prior BGR grants, 1,483 families across 13 villages in two communes (Angkanh and Sanlong) have already adopted SRI and SCI (System of Crop Intensification). The goal of this grant is to phase out the Angkanh commune and continue spreading SRI and SCI in 12 villages in the Sanlong commune. The project aims to increase the incomes of target farmers by 150%. It will increase collaboration between local authorities and poor farmers, encouraging local authorities to adopt SRI and spread the technique. It will build the capacity of 524 farmers by teaching SRI techniques and allowing them to share skills with another 1,048 family and community members.

8. Cameroon: A Food Program for Poor Children

This is a new project with a new partner, CENCUDER (Centre for Community Development and Environmental Restoration), in a new project country, Cameroon. The mission of CENCUDER is “to especially enable rural youths and women to acquire survival skills in order to secure a better future for themselves through education and training in life and vocational skills.” The project is a feeding program for poor and disadvantaged children attending Ebase-Bajoh community primary school. Funding will cover kitchen equipment, consultants, and food for the students, increasing primary school attendance and improving the children’s learning capacity and general health. The project is expected to bring increased income for the community and increased capacity to address its problems through learning to work with NGO assistance.

9. China: First Job Experience Training for Young Women

The Shambala Foundation is a collaborative organization, registered in Hong Kong, working to alleviate poverty in China. This project is intended to benefit women of Tibetan ethnic stock living mainly in Qinghai province. Many women who receive high school or vocational education are still unable to find work; schools are inadequate and do not connect students to employers. The project aims to provide women with employable skills, work experience, and increased social responsibility. In winter 2015-2016, Shambala will select ten women to participate in the First Job Experience program. The training will provide work skills, social skills (work ethic, self-esteem, interviewing skills), and financial literacy. The women will complete a 6-week internship with a business of their choice. After receiving training, women will return to villages and conduct an educational session for children on their experiences and a financial workshop for forty other women.

10. Côte d’Ivoire: Enhanced Food Production

Côte d’Ivoire is ranked 170 out of 187 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index (UNDP 2011). Over 48% of the 22 million population lives in poverty. Six million are children under the age of five. The under-five mortality rate in Côte d’Ivoire is 195 per 1,000 live births. The average lifespan is 54 years. Malnutrition, including vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies, contribute to the high child mortality. Chronic malnutrition affects 33% of children under five years, while 16% of children under five are vitamin A deficient, which compromises the immune system and, in turn, increases the risk of death.

This is the third year of a three-year project with partner Helen Keller International. This year the project will expand HKI’s Enhanced Homestead Food Production into Lokakro Village in the District of Bouaké. It aims to increase the availability and quantity of micronutrient-rich vegetables such as sweet potatoes, especially for young children and pregnant women. It will teach the production model to 30 women, who will then spread their learning to a total of 300 village women. It is expected to result in improvements in gardening practices, irrigation systems, income generation, and gender empowerment. Year three of a three-year project.

Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 1

BGR Staff

Over the first weekend of May, BGR team members held their annual general meeting on Saturday, May 2, followed the next day by a board meeting to select projects for our next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016. Both meetings took place in the Woo Ju Memorial Library of Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York. Team members came from across the US, including Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington State. Others from California and Florida joined via the internet.

At the board meeting on May 3, the board approved twenty-two projects for partnership grants in the next fiscal year, at a total cost of $375,000. Several projects are renewals of repeated annual projects, while others are new. In addition to our long-term partners, we also established several new partnerships. Projects approved include several multi-year programs, which allow for the pursuit of bolder goals than is possible with one-year projects.

In addition to the regular projects, the board also agreed to provide two further emergency donations for relief work in Nepal: $2,000 to Karuna Shechen and $2,000 to the Tzuchi Foundation. Both are Buddhist-inspired relief organizations working to provide care to victims of the April 26 earthquake. These donations are in addition to the $10,000 emergency relief BGR provided immediately after the earthquake, which was divided evenly among five organizations: UNICEF, CARE, Direct Relief, Oxfam America, and the International Medical Corps.

This is the first of a five-part series of posts giving brief summaries of the BGR projects approved at the meeting. Projects are arranged alphabetically by country. International projects precede the U.S. projects, which will be described in the final post. Thanks are due to Kim Behan, BGR Executive Director; Patti Price, Chair of the Projects Committee; and Jessie Benjamin, Charles Elliott, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ, who helped prepare the material used in this series of posts.

1. Bangladesh: Making Markets Work for Women           

Our partner in this project, Helen Keller International (established 1915), works in 22 countries to save the sight and lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged through programs in vision, health, and nutrition. BGR will enter the third year of a three-year partnership with HKI on a program in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) called “Making Markets Work for Women.” In CHT, women are mainly responsible for agricultural production. The program teaches extremely poor women how to effectively utilize communal plots. It builds agricultural skills such as pest management, organic fertilizer use, and intercropping, as well as food processing techniques. It will also establish community marketing groups so participants can work together to process and sell products, helping to combat discrimination at local markets. Courtyard sessions focus on topics of gender and nutrition for men and women, including feeding practices for children from birth to 2 years of age. The project will improve food security for 75 households (375 individuals) across five villages, additional to those already being served in the first two years of the project. Year three of a three-year project.

2. Bangladesh: Educating Children in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

Our project partner, Moanoghar, was founded in 1974 by a group of Buddhist monks to provide shelter to children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts affected by conflict or living in remote areas. There are currently more than 1,250 children sheltered at Moanoghar, approximately 40% of them girls. Many of the children were left homeless or orphaned as the result of a decades-long ethnic conflict. All children at Moanoghar receive free or highly subsidized education. This will be the third year of a three-year project to establish a sustainable educational system that can generate income to support the institution and the children being schooled there. The BGR grant will provide continued educational stipends for food and educational expenses for students and enable the planting of fruit trees and crops. Year three of a three-year project.

3. Bangladesh: Food Support for School of Orphans       NEW

Our partner, the Bangladesh Buddhist Missionary Society, was founded in 1977 by Ven. Jivanananda Mahathera, a Buddhist monk who has dedicated his life to the service of suffering humanity. BBMS is a non-sectarian, non-communal, non-governmental organization officially registered in Bangladesh in 1979. Its purpose is to dispense humanitarian services especially to helpless orphans, distressed widows, and other indigent men and women. The Orphan’s Home Complex is located at Betagi in the rural Chittagong Hills region, near the Karnaphuli River. The number of orphans has increased, food prices have risen, and government grants are not adequate to the need. This BGR grant will provide a six month’s food supply for 54 orphans at the school.

4. Bangladesh: Educating Ethnic Buddhist Minority Girls     NEW

The Jamyang Foundation (founded 1988) supports innovative education projects for indigenous girls and women in two of the neediest and most remote parts of the world: the Indian Himalayas and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. These projects foster women’s learning potential in ways that are harmonious with their unique Buddhist cultural backgrounds. About 275 girls are currently enrolled in their schools. This BGR project will fund a school lunch program at Yashodhara Girls’ School in the the Marma community, located in Ruma Village, Bandarban, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. There are 106 students, all female, enrolled in the school; all are from the ethnic Buddhist minority. These girls live in substandard conditions with poor food, yet are happy to be there because it is a good opportunity for them to gain an education. The grant will cover the costs of cooking equipment, a cook for one year, and school lunches.

Buddhists at the White House

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  110Last week, on May 14th, I was privileged to be part of a group of Buddhist monastics, teachers, and leaders who converged on Washington DC for a conference on the role of Buddhism in the public square. The idea to convene such a conference originated with Bill Aiken, Public Affairs Officer for Soka Gakkai International–USA, who began to lay plans for the gathering as far back as December 2014. He established a steering committee, which eventually came to consist of Danny Hall (also of SGI), Professor Duncan Williams, Professor Sallie King, Matt Regan, Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, and myself. The list of invitees, originally set at 80, increased incrementally until it amounted to approximately 125, the maximum that could comfortably fit into the facilities provided. Representatives included monks, nuns, ministers, academics, yogis, lay Dharma teachers, and Buddhist activists from all traditions, with a balanced blend of Asian immigrant Buddhists and convert American Buddhists.

The original goal of the event, as Bill Aiken conceived it, was to “to utilize the convening power of the White House to bring together a wide range of Buddhist community leaders to affirm our shared commitment to preventing climate change, sharing community best practices, and hearing from Obama administration representatives on issues of concern to us.” As preparations unfolded, two main points of focus emerged. One was climate change, which poses an ever-escalating threat to the security of human life on earth. The other, highlighted by the recent spate of police killings of unarmed people of color, has been the need for this country to finally implement full racial justice in all spheres of our communal life.

The conference was divided into two segments. In the forenoon, we met in a spacious hall in George Washington University to hear presentations on climate change, racism in America, and efforts to express Buddhist values in the public sphere. After a video message from  Mary Evelyn Tucker on faith as a catalyst for action to protect the planet, I gave a presentation on climate change. In the 20 minutes allotted to me, I used the four noble truths as a template to uncover the causes behind climate change and to highlight the need to make the transition to a new, environmentally benign economic system powered by clean sources of energy. Angel Kyodo Williams spoke next, giving an incisive talk on the interconnection between racism and the despoliation of the natural environment. She pointed out that the way we degrade the planet is symptomatic of the same mental frame that permits us to degrade people; thus, she said, to dig up the roots of climate devastation requires us also to cut the roots of racial discrimination and violence. Professor Duncan Williams spoke about the experience of Japanese Buddhists in America, emphasizing how deep biases simultaneously devalued their religious commitments and subjected them to constant suspicion as an alien menace, particularly during the Second World War. This was followed by a series of talks about Buddhist groups working for social upliftment. During this period BGR’s fundraising chair, Sylvie Sun, gave a presentation on the work of Buddhist Global Relief.

In the afternoon we all convened in the Executive Offices Building of the White House for presentations by Administration officials on the issues at the center of the morning’s gathering. After an initial welcome from the White House Office of Public Engagement, Rev. T.K. Nakagaki led a group of monastics and Dharma leaders in a short Vesak ceremony, certainly the first ever held in the White House. This was followed by presentations, including question and answer sessions, from representatives of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Institute for Peace. During the proceedings we submitted two statements to government officials, signed by all attendees, one calling for action to stem climate change, the other calling for a need to address racism.

The day’s events concluded with a short talk by Jack Kornfield, who gave voice to the shared recognition that this day marked a significant step forward for Buddhism on American soil. Jack pointed out that in coming together to articulate our common concerns to see Buddhist values taken as guideposts for public policy, Buddhists were not breaking new ground but were continuing a tradition that goes back to the Buddha himself, who traveled through northeast India advising kings, princes, governors, and citizens how to establish a rule that conforms to the Dharma, the timeless law of goodness, truth, and justice. As Buddhists we do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on government, a violation of the separation of church and state, but to see that government policies conform to the standards of compassion, social equity, peace, and environmental responsibility at the heart of Buddhism and all the world’s great faith traditions.

All who attended felt that this year’s gathering marked only the first of what is likely to become an annual event–a major first step, but only a beginning. Bill Aiken suggested that next year’s conference might culminate in a visit with our legislators on Capitol Hill. My personal feeling is that a one-day conference is insufficient to exhaust the potentials of such an encounter. While meeting on the single day gave us the opportunity to make new contacts and articulate our shared concerns, for such a gathering to bear effective fruit, the conference would have to be extended over at least two days. The extra time would allow for additional full-length sessions devoted entirely to group discussions on the issues at the center of concern. In such additional sessions we would be able to assess the points made in the presentations and draw up plans for lines of action to exert pressure on public policy decisions.

I also believe that, given the small number of Buddhists in the US relative to the general population, it would be delusional for us to imagine that on our own we can exercise a significant influence. Rather, our best prospects for giving Buddhist values a role in public affairs would be to join hands with other faith-based organizations that share our values and to present a collective front, rooted in our respective faiths, advocating for greater social justice, ecological responsibility, an end to militarism, and efforts to establish global peace. Such a convergence of faiths has already emerged in the environmental movement through such organizations as Green Faith, Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, and Our Voices. Through networking, a wider collective voice might emerge that could well set in motion the forces needed to articulate and embody a new paradigm rooted in perceptions of human unity, the intrinsic dignity of the person, and the interdependence of all life forms with each other and the natural world. Such collaboration could serve to promote values and a new way of life that offers a sane alternative to free-market corporate capitalism with its blind imperatives of exploitation, extraction, consumerism, and endless economic growth.

Here are a few photos from the gathering (all photos by Phillip Rosenberg):

Bill Aiken opens the conference

A section of the attendees

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  49

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi talks on climate

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  50

rev. angel Kyodo williams

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Sylvie Sun speaks on BGR

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  108

Vesak ceremony in White House

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  109

Vesak ceremony in White House

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Talk by Administration official

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Jack Kornfield gives concluding talk

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Group photo


BGR’s Fourth Concert to Feed the Hungry

BGR Staff

BGR’s Fourth Concert to Feed the Hungry was a memorable occasion. The concert was held at the Interchurch Center in New York City on April 30, International Jazz Day. It capped a whole day of jazz-themed events by our concert partners, Jazzmobile and The New Heritage Theatre Group, at the Interchurch Center. Produced by jazz saxophonist Dan Blake, the concert brought together an all-star lineup of leading jazz artists with a global mission to assist impoverished communities around the world: bassist Larry Grenadier, singer and songwriter Rebecca Martin, jazz and blues vocalist Sandra Reaves-Phillips, drummer Winard Harper, organist Akiko, the Leni Stern Group featuring a West African drum team, and pianist Mijiwa Miyagima. 

All who attended agreed that the music was exceptional, and were united in their appreciation for the talented jazz musicians who donated their time to the cause of hunger relief.  Our sincere thanks go out to Dan Blake and all the others who worked so hard to make the evening a success, to those who attended and those who made donations. If you were unable to attend, we hope you can come next year for a moving and delightful evening of music and caring.

The following photographs by Ven. Wu Lin, resident bhikshuni (nun) at Chuang Yen Monastery, convey the intensity and exuberance of the concert.

Sandra Reaves-Phillips

Rebecca Martin

Larry Grenadier

Akiko Tsuruga

Leni Stern

Mijiwa Miyagima

West African Drummers, Leni Stern Group

Winard Harper

Bassist in Leni Stern Group

Group photo, producer Dan Blake at far right

Responding to the Massive Earthquake In Nepal

BGR Staff

A monk inspects damage at Svayambhunath Temple. Photo: Narendra Shrestha—EPA

On Saturday, a massive earthquake of 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal with devastating force close to the capital, Kathmandu. The death toll from the earthquake has already passed 4,000, and many more people living in remote regions are feared dead and injured. Tens of thousands have been rendered homeless, without food and water, and close to a million children in affected areas are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

While Buddhist Global Relief is not a disaster relief organization, the BGR board has provided an emergency donation of $10,000 to support the relief efforts. The donation has been evenly distributed among five relief organizations: UNICEF, CARE, Direct Relief, Oxfam America, and the International Medical Corps.

People wishing to contribute to the relief efforts should donate directly to reputable agencies and organizations working on the ground. Here are several suggestions:

The Nepal Red Cross Society is the epicenter of the relief efforts and is a direct way to help the people of Nepal. Here is its online donation link; please note that their website connectivity is on and off, so you might not be able to get through.

The American Red Cross is working with the Nepal Red Cross to coordinate additional support. You can help by selecting Nepal Earthquake Relief on their donation page.

CARE is on the ground and preparing to provide temporary shelter, ready-to-eat meals and water purification and latrine construction. You can learn more about their relief plans here or go directly to their donation page to help.

Direct Relief is preparing and delivering medical resources to local health facilities that are seeing patient surges for quake-related conditions. They are also working with medical companies to secure additional supplies as needed. You can help these efforts with an online donation.

Oxfam International is working to help provide clean water, sanitation and emergency food for those affected by this disaster. Donations can be made via Oxfam America

International Medical Corps is on the ground coordinating their response and sending additional staff and resources to support relief efforts. You can support the Nepal Earthquake Response online, or by texting MED to 80888 to give $10.

UNICEF is working with the government and other partners to meet children’s immediate needs in water and sanitation, protection, health and nutrition. You can help by donating online.

For more suggestions see the CNN report: “How to help victims of the Nepal earthquake” by Christopher Dawson, Sunday April 26, 2015.

New Report: Feeding the World Without GMOs

Charles W. Elliott

Feeding the World Without GMOsA new report, Feeding The World Without GMOs , by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) refutes the corporate biotech/industrial narrative that genetically modified organism (GMO) foods offer real solutions to global hunger and food insecurity.

Despite significant progress over the past 30 years, the world still faces an ongoing crisis of hunger and food insecurity. 805 million people continue to go hungry, according to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.[1] The world also faces a “hidden hunger” problem —micronutrient deficiency—which affects some two billion people, causing long-term, irreversible health effects and significantly impairing economic productivity. We face stark challenges posed by population growth: by 2050 the demand for food will be twice what it was in 2005.[2]

Feeding the World Without GMOs takes a hard look at ways to address this problem and concludes that GMO food is a non-solution. In nine pages of tight synthesis, it analyzes: (1) why GE crops don’t contribute to food security; (2) what would work to boost the global food supply; and (3) the unfulfilled promise of genetic engineering.
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