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Jambo Wanafunzi!

Student ambassador Miss Wendi Bandi from the United States

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This was probably one of the greatest days of my trip so far. Despite the great meetings with the Ministry of Education, the Assisant chief of Kesses and the DAAD conference (details in the next post), I was really wanting to go into some of the schools and actually meet with the students. Its one thing to read about infrastructure and hear from former teachers about the hardships of having 40+ students per class, and actually going in and seeing it for yourself. Miriam, my PhD research guide, invited me to the Moi Private School closing ceremonies. I really didn’t know what closing ceremonies entailed but I was so excited to get into the classroom so I signed on. It was one of the most incredible experiences.
Moi Private school is only about 3km from Moi University and is actually funded and sponsored by the Univesity as well as the government. The ceremony already was started by the time we got there (about 10:30) but as Miriam is one of the parents there, we didn’t have any problem showing up. As we walked in though, the children all turned their attention to the door and saw us. The principal, who recognized Miriam as not only a parent but also a professor at Moi, invited us to go up and sit at the teachers table. So after quietly greeting all the teachers, the awards were given to the children. As it was a Primary school, the years went from Standard 1 – Standard 8. There were at least 90 students per grade which means we had over 700 students staring up at us, eagerly waiting to see which three of their classmates received highest marks. The reward for the top three students was a NEW book for the next school year. I have a ton of pictures (cant wait to put up next week) and the best was of one of the little girls in Standard 1 was looking at her book in awe and the older kids around her were reading it to her and helping her with the difficult tasks.

When the Standard 8 rewards were about to be distributed, the principal said he would like me to present the awards and also greet all the standard 8 students individuals to congratulate them on their accomplishment. This was a huge honor for me as the standard 8 boys and girls who succeeded really are on the path to success in Kenya; graduation rates are still not high and there are so many struggles these students have faced compared to students in other parts of the world. There were only about 40 some students in standard 8 (compared to the 95 in standard 1!) but they really seemed happy to have me there and presented their awards. After I greeted them all, the principal made an announcement and asked the school if they would like me, their student ambassador from the US, to make the closing remarks and I was shocked to be received with all the students clapping and shouting ndiyo (which is yes in Kiswahili). So I got up, actually really nervous with such a responsibility with so many eyes on me, and addressed them. “Jambo wanafunzi!” which is hello students. I don’t think they were ready for me to start off in Kiswahili and didn’t really get a reaction. Great ha. But I tried it again, this time a little louder, with my hand to my ear trying to joke and have them interact and said again “Jambo wanafunzi!!” and they all yelled back “Jambo Mzungu/Miss Wendi” and then giggled a bit but then sat quietly staring up at me. So in a mix of English and Kiswahili, I told them I was from the United States studying community development at the University of Pittsburgh, that this was my first time in Kenya but I liked working with schools the best. I then went on to tell them that I was very proud of each of them for completing exams and that primary school is only the first step, but that it was a really big and important step. That the standard 8 students who I had the pleasure of meeting were very smart, brave and determined young boys and girls and that each of the younger students should follow their example and look forward to school in the years to come. I finished by saying that even as a student in the US, I’ve had my difficulties with school and sometimes it is hard to figure out how to afford it, but with the help of my family, friends and teachers as well as my own dream to go to university, I made it up to the University level and had the chance to come visit Kenya – another dream of mine. So if I can achieve my dreams, each of them can achieve their dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you “no you can’t” because yes you can and you will. When I said Asante sana na pongezi wanafunzi! (thank you and congratulations students) they stood up and clapped and some of them came up to me and gave me hugs and wanted to show me their classrooms.

I got to go to the standard 3 and 4 classrooms and they took pictures with me, showed me the library and told me things they learned that year. After my meetings with the students, the teachers invited me back to the teachers lounge and we had chai and talked for 20 minutes or so about how they would love for me to set up a partnership program for the fall with a high school in the US and with their school so the students could be pen pals, learn more about one another’s cultures and create networks they can use while growing up in different parts of the world. I think it’s a great idea and have already emailed some of the teachers at Burgettstown to set up a meeting once Im home to discuss the possibilities of setting up a “partnership”.

What shocked me the most that a few days later when I was walking to the matatu stage (area where you pick up a matatu into town) two girls stopped me by saying “Madame, are you Wendi, the American student who came to our closing ceremonies?” After I affirmed that I was and inquired their years and names (Katherine and Nancy in standard 6) they asked if it was hard to get into an American school and if I really thought Kenyan students could go there. My response “Of course you can and if you work hard in school, say no to trouble and really dedicate yourself, you can go to a University in the US” They asked if I would come back and help students, especially the girls, and I told them that I would try everything to go and gave them my email, bought them each an orange and then went on to the stage. And, given the position offer I was given, I will be hopefully coming back within the next year or so!

Posted by WendiBandi 09:43 Archived in Kenya Tagged educational Comments (0)

The Mezzo level – where everything comes together

Meeting with the Ministry of Education!

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My meeting with the Ministry of Education was absolutely inspiring, to see women and men working to really help the students and have them appreciate the education opportunities they are given. As I mentioned in the earlier post, most of the Wareng district ministers of education are former teachers and moved into the administrative level in order to eradicate the problems they witnessed as educators in the classroom. I could tell from each one of their expressions that they would want to be back working one on one with the kids but the issue is that no teachers are working one on one with the students as enrollment rates are too high and not enough teachers are being hired.

The way the DEO (District Education Office) identifies what students go to school in the area is by going to the village elders and asking who is working and who is going to school. This is where gossip comes in handy as there are no records of everyone living in the area, but the elders know where everyone lives and what they do. I learned though that PTAs (Parent Teacher Associations) play the most important role in the school’s development. PTA members attended a workshop at Moi University in which they discussed infrastructure development and underdevelopment, motivation techniques and key issues at the school. There were about 30 parents total, which is low but good for a first meeting, in which they gave parents questionnaires which the DEO will analyze and are in the process of making ‘taskforce objectives’ for the next school year. Some of the main complaints were that the student –teacher ratio is too high and that teachers’ salaries are too low. Also, the teachers they are hiring are not fresh out of school and therefore are accepting the lower wages to overcome unemployment even if they did not have the best marks at the teacher’s college.

The issue with the teachers isn’t that teachers aren’t available – there are plenty of students going to the teacher’s colleges but with the Free Primary Education initiative, the government distributes to the schools to cover infrastructure costs and teacher salaries. SO either there are less teachers hired at higher (but still negligent salaries) or more teachers hired, with lower marks and qualifications, and lower salaries. The only schools where this is less of an issue is within the private schools. Private schools are seen as a business venture by many of the wealthier men and women in the area as the wealthier families send their children (with tuition fees) to the schools, the tuition fees pay for the teachers salaries AND cushion the pockets of the school directors/businessmen and women. Even at the public school level now, PTAs are bringing in more money to pay for higher salary/better qualified teachers. The DEO explained that understaffing is the main problem – There are 456 secondary schoolsin Wareng, but there needs to be at least another 212 and there are 905 primary schools and they need at least another 302. This is just within Wareng district! The teachers are hired through the TSC and the areas with most neglect are the special education centers and early childhood development centers (ECDC).

  • *Free Primary Education gives the school 10,600Kenyan shillings or about $125 USD per student which doesn’t cover books or lunches – just the tuition.

In regards to the percentage of children going to school, according to the assistant chief, 75% of all children in Wareng district attend school but obviously girls are in the minority after primary school. The Maasai people are one of the main ethnic groups in the area and they still practice female cutting and after this event happens in a girls life, she usually does not return to school. I wont go into this topic too much but for those of you who want to look into it, read Waris Dirie’s “Desert Flower “ or check out this website http://www.orato.com/world-affairs/maasai-ritual-of-female-circumcision.

KESSP is the Kenya Education Sector Support Program and is the part of the government that works with donors and is broken in 22 divisions from retention to quality assurance to HIV/AIDS to co-curricular activities. Every 5 years there is a drafted Strategic plan set for each county in Kenya as well as for each of the NGOS (such as PeaceLinks SNV) that dictates what is expected to be accomplished by the end of the 5 year term. It is up to the NGOs and the Ministries of Education to execute the propsed strategic plans and education policies drafted by the Parliament. These women (and man) I met with are responsible for all of the 900+ schools in the area and make sure they are running properly. It is a stressful job, one that they choose willingly because, although they love working at the micro-level within the schools, it is necessary to have a strong, educated, equal male female partnership DEO at the mezzo level to ensure Wareng county schools will be running successfully.

To finish our meeting, we got into quite a heated debate with staff member J. Chelimu about female representation in Parliament. I stayed out of the discussion but eagerly listened to the arguments in which DEO Otheno said that only 12 out of the 210 parliament members are female – which is less than 6%. The Staff member’s argument was that women are still gaining their political rights and that 6% is an ok number to start with and that more women could run if they wanted, but they don’t. Well I don’t know if he realized or not, but he was in a room with 8 other women and no other men. Needless to say he was outnumbered and they began telling him how difficult it was for MP Kamaar of Eldoret East to get into office and how MP Simam was only endorsed by her male counterparts to get former MP Koros out of office.

It was a great afternoon with dedicated women really giving it their all to obtain change. I could honestly tell that they each wanted to be back in the classroom, but they know that by working for the Ministry, they are paving a way for future teachers. There was an article in the Daily Nation in which at an assembly, the secretary of education asked who wanted to be teachers when they were older, and not one hand raised. Why? Because students do not see teaching as a respected, successful profession. Unless something changes, no teachers will be there to teach the next generation of students. These women are making sure that change is put into effect and for that I applaud their efforts.

Posted by WendiBandi 09:36 Archived in Kenya Tagged educational Comments (0)

Upward Mobility: Words from Women in Power

The only way to truly understand cultural perceptions is to talk to the members of the community – so I did just that. I had two great interviews with women in power and the men who work alongside them.

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Hi Everyone!
As I’ve mentioned before I am working alongside one of the PhD students, Miriam Rotich, who is associated with IGERD (Institute for Gender Equity Research and Development). We’ve compiled a list of people I should meet and talk with before I head back to Nairobi next week. In addition to the meeting with Chief Letting of Kesses Location, I also had the opportunity to speak with the Divisional Youth Officer, Janeliza Mwaudende, District officer for Kapseret, Faith Masika, and female councilors of Wareng county, Councilor Josphine Tarus of Cheptiret ward, Councilor Elizabeth Sang of Kepchamoo ward, and Councilor Judith Sang of Kapseret ward.

Officer Mwaudende of the Divisional Youth office works with youths out of school who have either completed up to form three but not class 8. The different organizations she facilitates, including youth and employment, youth and the environment, youth crime and drugs, youth leisure and sports, youth fund and kazi kwa vijana (work for youths). These organizations were created to get those who are not completing an education involved in the community and hopefully enable them to finish their education and become an asset to the Kesses community. We talked a lot about furthering education and some of the obstacles the youth of Kesses encounter – especially the difference between males and females and Officer Mwaudende explained that there is a stigma behind furthering education; many families are satisfied with their lifestyles and see their main priority to make use of the available land and to marry and have families. It was Officer Mwaudende’s perception that women are still stuck with the mentality that their main goal is to marry and start a family. The only way we discussed that could turn around this mentality is to have community based civic education in which sex education is discussed and the opportunities there are for the town. “Economic empowerment” is a term that many of the council members used to describe what they think would inspire change. Funding is necessary, but the ideas and the will to induce change is needed most in the area.

Our next meeting was with the District Officer for Kapseret, Faith Masika. There are not many women in Officer Masika’s position and what makes her even more unique is that she is one of the younger individuals in this position (men and women included). Faith spoke with Miriam and I about the adult education programs and women’s microfinance groups which allow women to work together to raise funds for unexpected expenses, additional agricultural investment and children’s school fees. With both the adult literacy programs and the women’s microfinance groups, women do not want their husbands to know that they are participating in these groups. There are cultural pressures on women to maintain the status as a housewife and mother and not to continue their education or to procure their own finances. Despite these pressures, there are many women (and men) who have taken their KCB examination. Within the last year, 80 women and 70 men received their primary certificates. These programs are sponsored through the government and offices like Faith Masika’s help organize and set up the programs.

The greatest benefits from the program, according to Officer Masika, are that the living standards have increased for the women and families who participate in these programs. Women are becoming more aware and conscious of national and community issues and are now participating to help induce change where change needs to happen. My meeting with Faith Masika verified my personal philosophy that increasing education has a direct impact on the community participation and growth. Additionally though, the major issue is that there are still women who are hiding the fact they want to continue their education (which was cut short due to early marriage and pregnancy or lack of funds) which means there are still many women who are not even willing to come out to the meetings or classes for fear their husbands will reject their requests. This mentality is limiting the growth the area could have. Within the last 2 years, Eldoret has been built up and has recovered from the post-election violence in 2007, but it has not reached its potential yet and there are many who are struggling to make wages high enough to support themselves and their families.

I asked Faith the question I ask each of the officers I’ve interviewed – are there international aid or groups who participate within the community. She responded the way many of the others have, “there were many groups here to help in the early months of 2008 after the election violence” (which hit Eldoret the hardest of anywhere in the country). There were groups such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Red Cross and programs which came to build up schools in Kiambaa and Kamuyu, but other than those who responded right after the election violence, there hasn’t been many within Eldoret itself. (I heard from the Ministry of Education for Kesses who explained the role of PeaceLinks SNV and SOS within the different smaller communities. )

Officer Masika did explain that there is an annual capacity building and training seminar on Women’s day that speaks to women in the community. They discuss equal opportunities, the women’s and men’s roles as parents, and how women can empower themselves through education and participation. She said that it is a very inspiring program for those who attend, but that attendance rates need to go up and there needs to be more community support for Women’s Day activities throughout the year.

My next visit was with 3 of the 6 female councilors of the County Council or Wareng. There are 35 councilors total in which women only make up 1/5 of the council. I also had 2 of the auditors for the county sit in and join our discussion. These women gave a lot of insight on the struggle it is to become elected even at the local level. Doris and Rhoda are both in their third year of office and neither have completed their post secondary studies. Rhoda was an active farmer in the community and Doris was a clerk for a secondary school. Both women explained that their roles as councilors is to go into the communities and to see what needs done within the community and then set a plan in action to make it happen. They look at dilapidated schools and different infrastructure programs that need readjusted. They started talking about women’s enterprises groups and self-help groups, in which she said these are still ongoing with women in the community and they collect money and give loans to those within the group. This concept seems to be popular within Kenya more so than the harambe groups that were nationally known. Harambe means literally translates into “pull together!” and was a common phrase and idea during elections. The same mentality exists in the US – politicians make promises to help communities grow but after elections are over, there is little follow through.

We talked a lot about the role of women and the difference between the men and women when it came to the family and even within the council. The women I was talking to began discussing these topics like they were the latest gossip. Many of them stated that women are the ones in the community and households who take the initiative to speak up and insist that change happen whether it be for the children to go to school or that a road needs to be tarmacked or that there needs to be a peace settlement between neighbors. The reason women’s groups work is because that they embrace the idea of harambee and know that unless they work together, their community will not be adjusted and modified as it needs to be. They each mentioned their own anecdotes about where women worked more efficiently together compared to the men and despite these occurrences, men still ran the government and held public office.

Free Primary Education is always a topic of discussion because there are many different views and opinions of its effectiveness. As always, they remarked that the student-teacher ratio was too high and that the funds allocated to pay the teachers is not sufficient. There are higher enrollment rates for girls compared to boys in primary school but by secondary school, there are more boys than girls. Girls are expected to marry, they become pregnant or they are forced into illegal employment ‘opportunities’ such as prostitution or selling of mtumba to make money for the family. The schools which have the lower drop-out rates for girls are the boarding schools because they are kept in school and are not exposed to the harsh realities many of their peers in day school experience. Then again, boarding school is more expensive and is not covered under the Free Primary Education Act. But in regards to community development and education, ignorance is now being faced with positive thinking and development is occurring as a result. Girls are seeing women in power and women who are fighting for them to receive an education which paves a path for girls to follow in their footsteps.

The problem though is today’s school age generation does not want to go into the teaching profession. They see their teachers as low-paid civil servants and the majority who have their teaching degrees are no employed due to the low budgets for hiring teachers. Also they see the strain on their teachers trying to teach more students than is realistically able to be taught. It is a financial and mental strain on these teachers.

The women council said that there have been some scam NGOs that were operating after the election violence but they were caught. The problem is, now communities are hesitant to accept the help of NGOs due to the negative past experiences. The women councilors recommended that NGOs be monitored more, as should the community spending, and there be a closer interaction between the donors and those being sponsored. Many of the NGOs don’t even come into Eldoret and see how their programs are working. Some of the positive programs mentioned were SOS schools for orphans and Kentrum farmers who sponsor greenhouses, and train and facilitate the market in the area.

Councilor Judith works with disabled individuals and she said that the neglect towards girls is the same as the neglect toward the disabled in the community. But she said that the other councilors are supportive of the proposals shes made for handicapped ramps, schools that help disabled children and employment centers for the disabled. Judith brought up a great point that gave an optimistic look toward the future. She said that although there are only a few female councilors, they support one another’s projects and make sure they are addressed and executed. So as more time goes on, more projects will be completed and the alliances between these women will continue for years to come. There are two women MPs in the Eldoret area, Professor Margaret Kamaar and Hon. Peris Siam, and these women leading at the national level empower women to run at the local level within their jurisdictions because they have the support from above.

I’ll finish this post with their recommendation to girls. Girls need guidance and to be walked through the steps of success and the only way to do this is through example. The Councilors love their jobs because they go into the community, they see what needs done and the majority of the time they can make it happen. The girls in the community and schools see women doing things and making a direct impact in the community and they are optimistic about their chances for the future. They also ask girls to stay locally “even for just a bit” to help build the community after they receive an education because that is the only way Eldoret can grow into a positive community. They hope through their example and self-help groups that girls will realize they have the means to have a reputable profession, to obtain independence and confidence to break the cultural barriers which have kept them trapped.

My next post I’ll give an overview of my talk with the Ministry of Education and how we learned from one another and plan to start an international partnership once I return home! Hope you all enjoy my blogs as I enjoy sharing them with you. See you all in 20 days!

With love,


Posted by WendiBandi 08:26 Archived in Kenya Tagged educational Comments (0)

Eldoret, Kenya - Home of Marathon Runners and good food :)

My first week in Eldoret has went by so fast already. Heres the scope on what my daily life has been like and the people I've been with. Ill update soon about what I'll be doing and how well things are with Dr. Wanjiku and her family.

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Sasa Marafiki na jamaa yangu wa Marekani! (Hi my friends and family of the US)

Nimekuwa Eldoret! (I am in Eldoret!) Eldoret is MUCH different from Nairobi as it is a smaller town but still large with many interesting communities. I have yet to actually venture out but I did have lunch right in Eldoret at a great Indian restaurant that had amazing chapatti. Chapatti is very much like Naan and is eaten with most meals as is Ugali which is a maze/cornmeal food. I have some pictures of the food and will describe it in detail under the captions.

I had a quick easy flight from Nairobi to Eldoret and arrivd Sunday, July 4th morning around 10:30. Dr. Wanjiku Khamisi, my boss at Moi University’s IGERD programme (Institute for Gender Equity, Research and Development) picked me up with her daughter who is obtaining her Masters in health sciences. Both were very nice and the drive from Eldoret International Airport to Eldoret was about ½ an hour and then another 45 minutes from where we were to Moi University. I was very appreciative of their generosity to pick me up as an hour and half long ride in a matatu with ALL my luggage would be horrific. There is a lot of farmland; Eldoret is the main cheese manufacturing community in Kenya, but surprisingly, I haven’t had any cheese yet. We had lunch in Eldoret town at an amazing Indian restaurant with really good chapatti and lentil beans and a cucumber and cabbage salad. It was so good. In Eldoret town there are a lot of shops and I stopped at a supermarket that was like a mini Walmart. I got some water, Manji Digestive (odd title I know) bisquits which are made with wheat and are really good. I also go instant coffee which is POTENT and will keep you awake for hours (not as tasty as a Spanish cortado but not bad) and sugar. They put a lot of sugar in their coffee here but also steamed milk which I like.

I’ve seen many pictures of the university but the community was new to me. Most of the roads have a red dirt on it (it tends to get all over your shoes) and between communities is very rural areas.
In Kenya, I’ve learned, there are districts that are like towns or even states depending on the size here in the US and then neighborhoods in the states are equivalent to Kenyan locations. Next week I’ll be venturing into the different locations. There are four main districts as determined for the national representation – Eldoret North, East, South and West. Eldoret south has a VERY dynamic female MP (Parliament Member) Simam Perie and for my research I will be looking at the impact of having a female representative on enrollment rates for females in the district region. Kesses, another location, also is similar to Eldoret South as a former Professor, Deputy Chancellor of Moi University, current Speaker of the House and former DVC, Hon. Kamaar, is making strides in women’s participation for her region. My goal is to meet with each of these wonderful and inspiring women.

The community at Moi University is different than the surrounding locales. Most of the students attending lectures here are for the Environmental study forum that is ongoing in which the 7 American students I’ve befriended are a part of. Additionally, most of the students here are pursuing their Masters rather than their Undergraduate degree. All are welcoming though and we talk a lot during lunch. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m staying at the International students guest house and I have two housemates, Elizabeth (a Master’s student) and Sister Clara from Tanzania who is pursuing her Masters in Religious Studies. Sister Clara has been a wonderful friend to me. She has lent me her hot water boiler to make coffee and tea and she surprised me today with an avocado, mango, 3 apples and bananas from the market as I haven’t had the opportunity to go there yet. Sister Clara is very sweet and has been helping me with my Kiswahili as I am still learning. We attended mass this morning at 7am (early I know- especially for me ha) and she helped me the whole way. Most of it I already know from Mwalimu Leonora, but the practice is necessary.
My room is actually quite large and I have my own bathroom and yes, there is hot running water AND a shower so I am not suffering. It is chilly at night but I have my quilt and the guest housing provided me with a throw as well. The international guest housing also accommodates my new friends from Indiana University who are with the Environmental studies.
A quick description:
Malliron is a grad student at Indiana who is very outgoing, funny, has coined the phrase PTL – Praise the Lord, and is always smiling and encouraging me to join into their little family which I eagerly do. She has an internship in Kenya Industrial Estates about 50 minutes away that follows the same concept as 1000 villages where women make jewelry and is sold fair trade in the States and here. The benefits help with HIV AIDS treatment centers.

Candane is also a grad student and is originally from Jamacia. She already has an admirer here and is genuinely inviting and very intelligent (as are the rest of my new friends.) Jordan looks just like my roommate Barbie and is very atheletic, generous, and sarcastically honest about everything but she has an infectious personality and is constantly laughing. Abby, whose birthday is quickly approaching, is quiet but like the rest, very intriguing and also likes soccer a lot. Nikki is my yoga partner (ok weve only done it once but still) and had an internship in DC and has given me an honest opinion of living there. Definitely some things to consider from our talks. Nicole is very studious and is also a grad student who is married and is maintaining a long distance relationship (kudos to her!) She has been to Africa before and is definitely an asset Im glad to have here as I’m slightly oblivious despite all my research. Sarah arrived yesterday and I am just getting to know her but shes been in Kenya and Uganda since May and worked with school children in the slums. I have no idea how she did it but shes inspirational. And last is Justin who is the only guy in the group (poor Justin). He is also married to his wife he met while they were both doing the Peace Corps in Tanzania and his Kiswahili is amazing.

Their program directors, Dr. Henshaw, Dr. W and Dr. PW are very intelligent and captivating. Henshaw makes many interesting comments. Dr. W and PW are married (their first names are Henry and Phoebe) and they are both Kenyan and work at Indiana University. They are the definition of a perfect marriage and I love the fact that they are so welcoming to me as they are very calming and caring.
Dr. Wanjiku has been out of town the past few days but I will be meeting up with her on Thursday and shes invited me to stay at her house for the night and have dinner and discuss the plans for the next week. I’m very eager to start as Ive been doing a lot of research (which is necessary) with her PhD student, Miriam. Miriam is very sweet and helpful in helping me set up my plans for the next three weeks or so.

I’ll put more of my cultural observations in my next post but Im caught up on whats been going on in my life so far. Hope everyone is well – Miss and love you all!
Kwa heri!


Posted by WendiBandi 12:53 Archived in Kenya Tagged educational Comments (0)

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