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Meet the New Regional Director, SE Asia

Joe HayesWe are happy to introduce you today to the new SE Asian Regional Director, working from the Regional Office in Thailand. Joe Hayes joins The Exodus Road team in a leadership capacity and comes to us with years of cross-cultural management experience. The fact that Joe grew up in Southeast Asia and speaks the language fluently gives him a unique cultural advantage as he works with team members and partners throughout the region.

A primary value we maintain as an organization is the equipping of nationals to effectively fight trafficking in their own communities, and employing a Regional Director like Joe who can bridge the cultural gap is a another step towards that goal. One of Joe’s primary roles is to build capacity and effectiveness for a growing team of national staff.

As you will undoubtedly ascertain from the following interview, Joe is very much interested in the well-being of humanity. We are so honored to welcome him to leadership in the field.

Take a moment to read through his honest answers to the following questions:

_____

What brought you to The Exodus Road?

I have a heart and a burden for the people of Thailand. I am honored to be working closely alongside Matt Parker because of his drive and passion for the people. I feel as though I am among my people. I am one of them. I grew up here in Thailand around poor people and have spent a lot of time with the Khmer refugees. I have a great burden for the people, to see them freed.

So you grew up in Thailand. How do you think this influences your job?

I know I just said that I feel like the Thai people are my people. But at the same time I am a Caucasian man who was raised with North American influences. Even though I grew up thinking I was a Thai person, I am still very much my parents’ son. I can see that my background has prepared me for my management job now. If I can figure out how to motivate the Asian people to work hard to fight trafficking in their own countries and have success as professionals then I have done well.

Talk about what is challenging.

I am an ordinary person. I’m nobody. If I can help free modern day slaves through my management skills I am glad to help. There is pressure because the problem is so huge. What goes on is wicked and wrong.

Talk about what is driving you forward. What is your motivation? 

It’s easy to get involved to help these kids. My drive stems from the needs of the people. I would rather be in the background helping humans. I am learning and building a team of Asians who are passionate and filled with positivity and action to help fight human trafficking. I am honored to be on the team. . . . It’s not about the numbers or the program for me. It’s about the humans. I think the 1 is as important as the 50,000.

_______

Welcome to The Exodus Road team, Joe!

The Girl He Will Never Forget – DELTA Team Video

  • - Scott, Undercover Operative with DELTA team

    I was so overwhelmed. I thought, yeah I’ve read about it, but here it is, right in front of me. Don’t think a day has gone by where I have not wept over what I saw.

    - Scott, Undercover Operative with DELTA team

DELTA Team is composed primarily of qualified expats who are working in counter-trafficking in SE Asia. DELTA includes a partnering investigative organization whom we fund as well as a committed group of deployed volunteers who serve in two week (or more) stints sweeping areas of interest gathering large amounts of data and evidence. These volunteers must pass a rigorous interview and training process before working with us as operatives. Scott* was one of these deployed operatives.

We’ll be hosting another team of eight deployed operatives in September 2015. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they actively enter dark places on behalf of the oppressed. 

Who are the TraffickWatch Agents in Colorado Springs?

Charlie Team Banner horiz

“One thing I want everyone to know about human trafficking is that it appears in so many various ways and is often right in front of us,” said Rebecca*, a volunteer with TraffickWatch in Colorado Springs. She adds, “We, as a society, are very good at not seeing, not noticing, and not acting. It is prevalent everywhere. Although this makes the problem daunting and seemingly impossible to overcome, it also makes for countless ways for every person to get involved in the fight.

Rebecca is one of 43 local volunteers. She exuded positivity throughout the interview. We wanted to know her motivation for volunteering in such a unique program. “When I finally realized the truth about slavery today and my heart began to chase after justice in this area, I was extremely pleased to be given the opportunity to jump in locally with TraffickWatch. It provided an exciting way to play a hands-on part in providing justice and rescue for the victims enslaved in my own city.”

TraffickWatch is a program designed to fight human trafficking and sex slavery in the United States of America. This year the pilot was launched in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The volunteers are local individuals who passed the application and vetting process and participated in the training sessions. They now rotate shifts and spend a few nights a month doing targeted surveillance throughout the city. They look for suspicious activity which indicates trafficking. These tips are run through specialized analyzing data processors and made available to local authorities.

TraffickWatch Quote

The long night shifts, with a partner and coffee, can seem uneventful. Thalia* told us, “A normal night on the streets is usually pretty quiet as you, and who you are watching, are trying not to attract attention.” 

  • - Thalia, Volunteer TraffickWatch Agent

    We were surprised to see where this type of thing was taking place and where we were being sent to watch. You think it only happens in sketchy neighborhoods, but it is happening all around town.

    - Thalia, Volunteer TraffickWatch Agent

The volunteers at the interview agreed on a number of points. They all said that it feels as though society in general has very little awareness or concern regarding the realities of human trafficking in the United States. They each hope to increase awareness about this issue.

We asked Sebastian* what he has learned about human trafficking that he did not know before he started helping in the program. “The age of the victims and the ease of availability,” he said.

Through TraffickWatch, The Exodus Road hopes to help find actionable tips to provide to local police partners, which could lead to freedom for the exploited or enslaved. Thalia summarized the feelings of the group when she said, “One thing I hope happens because of the TraffickWatch program is that we can help that one person who no one else is concerned about.”

Some statistics about the initial pilot program which took place in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April – June 2015:

  1. It engaged 43 volunteer agents, trained and equipped to actively look for trafficking in their communities.
  2. It facilitated 22 nights of surveillance.
  3. It supplied local authorities with 72 tips, via a customized database management system.

*Names changed to protect identities

For more information you can visit the TraffickWatch page. Our goal is to roll out similar chapters in 12 cities throughout 2016. 

 

Dear Captive: A Letter from a Rescuer

Dear Captive

Undercover operatives with The Exodus Road have very difficult jobs. They enter bars and brothels and meet young girls whose bodies are for sale. They feign interest in purchasing the girls’ time so they can begin negotiating with traffickers or “mamasans” (brothel madams). As they talk about price, operatives try to discover as much information about the girls as they can. How old are they? Are they prostitutes by choice? How long have they worked as prostitutes?

Then, our operatives must make excuses and leave without closing the deal.

They report back to The Exodus Road without tipping off the traffickers. It’s not easy for the operatives to walk out knowing the girls will continue working after they’ve gone.

The following is a composite* letter written by covert operatives. It’s addressed to a fictitious girl, representative of the girls in the bars and brothels. It serves as an exercise to help operatives process their experiences after undercover assignments.

Dear Nok*,

I only saw you briefly one night, but it broke my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I had to shut down those feelings and pretend to be something I’m not so you might have freedom one day.

I want to apologize because it must have seemed like I rejected you. I saw you dancing alone in the corner of the club—a young and innocent girl who tried to appear older. I escorted you to a table and bought you a drink. Within moments, the mamasan sat with us. I know you knew little English, and it may have looked like I was trying to buy you for the night. I wasn’t. I was trying to obtain your freedom.

I put my arm around you, but I didn’t want to touch you like others have. I wanted to draw you to my side, if just for a moment, to give you the security of a father, of a man who cares what happens to you. There are people looking and fighting for your future, and I am one of those.

Again, I left so quickly, not because I found you worthless, but because your mamasan was getting anxious for me to buy time with you. However, I want you to know you are beautiful in so many ways. I want you to know your true worth. You are precious. You are a treasure. You are strong. You are important. You are worth saving.

covert operative volunteer weepLearn to hold on to this truth and don’t let it go. I’ve only seen a bit of what you endure, and I want to take you out of this environment so you can experience a true family.

If I could have, I would have bought you that night—not just for an hour but also for the rest of your life. I wanted to take you out of the bar so you could live in freedom. You will be sealed into my memory forever. I will speak of you often and pray for you more often, hoping, waiting and praying for the day I hear you’ve been set free.

People know you’re out there. Good-hearted people are working to free you. I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It’s not right.

I hate that I’m leaving you here, but I won’t forget you. As I say goodbye, tears stream down my face because I feel like I’m abandoning you. But, my faith is strong, and I trust the people staying behind to find and free you and girls like you.

Love,

A Covert Operative with The Exodus Road

 

* Name changed for identity protection

This composite letter was assembled from various authors. It was edited for length, grammar, and clarity. This exercise is primarily to help the operatives process their experiences. We share it in this format to allow readers to understand the intricacies of undercover work. 

An Interview with Undercover Operatives

Interview with Undercover Operatives

The Exodus Road: Thank you, Carl* and Robert*, for talking with us today about your recent experience as undercover operatives for The Exodus Road. We want to ask a few questions so others can get an idea of what it’s like to be an operative in Asia. So, let’s get started!

First, can you tell us about the vetting process and your preparation time? 

Carl: Based upon my initial vetting, I was not sure what to expect. I had visions of very unknown territories, and I felt almost nervous. However, I was very pleased and not stressed at all. Of course, I have been to Asia three times now and was familiar with some of the places and areas.

I would rate the trip 10, and I’m looking forward to another deployment!

TER: Thanks! What feedback can you give us about your training in Asia?

Carl: I felt very equipped and comfortable. I loved practicing with the equipment and getting used to the environment.

Robert: One thing I liked about our first assignment was that we observed a target. With this assignment, it allowed us to ease into the work.  … I believe this is important for first-time agents so they do not feel too overwhelmed.

TER: Did you feel safe during the investigations?

Carl: I always felt safe and felt everything was planned out well and executed well. I’m sure there was always more potential danger than most may have realized, but did feel like there was always an extra set of eyes and hands with us from a supernatural standpoint!

TER: How did you feel about your team of undercover operatives? Did you get along and work well together?

Robert: Great connection with the entire team. The morning debriefs were a great addition to the day. This allowed us to share and bond even more. Each agent was praised in front of the team, and I felt what we were doing is and will continue to make a difference.

TER: What were the biggest challenges you faced as an undercover operative?

Carl: It’s hard to explain. I have been on many mission trips, and I somewhat knew what to expect. But, when I actually walked in the houses selling 12-t0-16-year-old girls, I was so overwhelmed. I thought, “Yeah I’ve read about it, but here it is, right in front of me.” I wanted to weep, but I sucked it up and did what needed to be done. I don’t think a day has gone by where I have not wept over what I saw. I will be praying and remembering their faces often.

TER: What were the highlights of the trip for you? Or, what impacted you the most?Quote Lay a Brick

Carl: I would say the H-1* case has impacted me the most. I saw so many young girls, and I knew I got to go and sleep in a room about a half a mile away. But for the rest of that night and every night since, they have been sold. I know I was able to lay a brick by gathering new video footage. If I could complete the wall or be another part of it, I would fly back next week. … I’m so grateful for that opportunity and for the role I was allowed to play.

I would also say being able to sit and talk with a Ugandan trafficked girl was very eye opening. To transition from playing the role of a sex tourist to a man who cared and could actually speak life into her future was very rewarding.

 

Robert: The biggest highlight has been bonding with the team and making life-long friendships in a way most people never will. Watching the video and getting just the right screen capture is always very fulfilling for me. Having the opportunity to hand off cases to the police and see them agreeing with the team’s assessment was a big plus.

TER: Is there someone you met during your trip who you will never forget?

Carl: A little girl I saw and was able to record in the H-1 area. … She was maybe 12 years old or 13. I remember her smile and laughter as I tried to repeat her name and messed it up. She looked so innocent, and yet I won’t forget the things she had to do.

Robert: I did not get her name but there was a girl on the dance floor who was holding onto one of the poles and looked like if she could, she would melt into the pole and disappear. She wanted to be anywhere but where she was, and my heart broke knowing she couldn’t leave.

*Name changed

These responses have been edited for length, grammar and clarity.

Dear John: A Letter from a Covert Operative

Dear John

When The Exodus Road’s undercover operatives enter bars and brothels to gather evidence, they see disturbing images. They witness enslaved women sold for sex and they meet the men corrupt enough to buy them. These clear images and interactions recorded with covert gear are necessary to build solid cases against the traffickers. Then with the local authorities brothels can be closed and rescues can happen. The heaviness of these memories can haunt a person.

To help our operatives process what they’ve witnessed, we ask them to write letters. They write to three people: a victim, a customer (or “John”) and a human trafficker. Below is a composite* letter to a John.

Dear “John,”

I know you have a personal story that led you to this place. Your story is indeed unique, but it’s not done yet. I know this is not the person you were meant to be.  You were meant to be a protector, not a perpetrator. Every person has value and worth.

Can you imagine someone treating your daughter or sister like you treat these precious women? Don’t believe the lies that they want to be here. I want you to know it’s all a fantasy. They really don’t think you’re cute or sexy.

Most of the girls have children and many have families. Try to see that; try to remember that. I pray you begin to see things more clearly and understand what really happens in the bars and brothels.

I encourage you to think. There is freedom for you. I’m sure as you look back on your life, you may wonder how you got to this place, where you began soliciting sex slaves. The small compromises brought you here.

You can choose how you treat others. You have value, too, but when you abuse someone, (and, yes, this is abuse) you operate as an enemy to yourself and to others around you. Live in the light, and quit committing evil acts in the dark. Come clean and lift that heavy weight off your soul. I believe you crave intimacy, but your selfish activities are undermining your search for it.

I’m asking you to do something difficult that requires you to be honest about your motivations. Be brave enough to ask yourself hard questions. Gather around you people who lead lives of integrity and honor.

I pray your heart will change. I hope you begin to think less about immediate gratification and more about the soul of that girl.

Sincerely,

A Covert Operative with The Exodus Road 

*This composite letter was assembled from various authors. It was edited for length, grammar, and clarity. This exercise is primarily to help the operatives process their experiences. We share it here in this format to allow readers to understand the intricacies of undercover work. 

A New School for Omkoi

A cinder block building sits in the middle of Omkoi, a village, near Chiang Mai, Thailand. Every weekday, small children pour through its door to begin memorizing beautiful characters comprising the Thai written language. To villagers, this building represents hope and progress.

It is, of course, a school.

Ma Sot school 5

The school was built last fall after the Exodus Road hosted a team of volunteer workers from The Grove, a church in Chandler, Ariz. Those volunteers worked tirelessly to construct the building. They hammered boards, built walls and even found ways to help pay for the project.

They knew the area, like many in Northern Thailand, desperately needed more schools.

The new buildings sits between the Tung Kwang and Baan Kun villages, neither of which have educational facilities. Every day, children as young as 6 have to wake up early and trudge the five kilometers to the nearest classroom. After lessons end, they have to walk the entire way back.

Now, the youngest students are learning close to home. The new school in Omkoi targets 4 and 5 year-olds who, previously, had no educational opportunities, at all. They had no bright classrooms in which to learn to read, and they had no cheerful teachers to help them learn to count.

Ma Sot school 1

The Exodus Road partnered with Sean Abbott at True Vine Farms to change this. True Vine is a collection of organic farms throughout the Chiang Mai area that provides locals with fresh, environmentally responsible produce. Sean desires to improve general life in the area and has promoted education as a means of fighting human trafficking. Needless to say, Sean’s goals and dreams align with ours.

So, when an opportunity arose to partner with Sean and True Vine and to help create a new space for education in Omkoi, we readily agreed.

Now, education in Omkoi has changed. The school is already holding classes and jump-starting education for tiny students in surrounding villages. The government also has assigned a teacher from a nearby village to begin lessons, and community members have volunteered to cook lunches for the students. The villagers have welcomed this gift.

The building also has dual purpose now and serves as a daycare as well as a school. Parents have a safe, secure place to bring their young children before returning to work in their fields.

Ma Sot school 10

A solid partnership between our organization, True Vine Farms and The Grove changed the community in and around Omkoi, and that community will feel the effects of that change for years to come. Students will have more opportunities and parents will continue to work without worrying about children at home.

The Exodus Road wants to continue changing lives in more than just brothels. Through our partnerships, we want to affect communities throughout SE Asia.

prevention intervention and after care

Collaboration and Technology Key in Rescue of Rohingyas

 

title rohingyas

When The Exodus Road secured a grant of cyberforensics technology from a local security firm in Colorado Springs, MainNerve, LLC, in April 2014, our vision was for it to be used to gather key evidence against larger crime syndicates involved in human trafficking. One year later, that equipment did just that.Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.21.25 AM

The Thai Royal Police arrested a kingpin of a major human smuggling and trafficking ring involving the Rohingya people group last week. As evidence has been gathered, the horrific details of the crime syndicate have come to light.

The Rohingyas, a stateless people who are displaced and extremely vulnerable in the region, were being smuggled into Southern Thailand typically on boats and then being held in off-the-grid jungle camps. In these camps, traffickers would either ransom individuals or sell them into labor slavery in Malaysia. Those trapped at the jungle camps experienced deplorable conditions, including abuse. Mass graves were also maintained at the camps, some with nearly 30 bodies.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.23.23 AM

While the local police had evidence against lower-level traffickers in the operation, they lacked the evidence sufficient to convict the leaders of the crime ring. Thankfully, police began working with our partners at Freeland, who then turned to us for help. Utilizing the cyberforensics gear we provided, The Exodus Road was able to fund the analysis of the data gathered from cell phones of the traffickers in custody. This data proved critical to the location and arrest of Anwar, the kingpin of the entire trafficking ring. You can read about his arrest here. You can also read our partner Freeland’s press release on the case, including our involvement.

Soe Naing, who is widely known as Anwar, gestures after being arrested at the provincial police station in Nakhon Si Thammarat, southern Thailand April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Aubrey Belford

Soe Naing, who is widely known as Anwar, gestures after being arrested at the provincial police station in Nakhon Si Thammarat, southern Thailand April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Aubrey Belford

While this case is still ongoing, we are thrilled to have played a supporting role in it. In many ways, the Rohingya case emphasizes the critical and positive role that the NGO community can play in supporting national authorities to gain access to key technology and resources, making the busting of larger level crime syndicates possible.

You can read more about the Rohingya case here–

The Exodus Road: Press Release of Cyberforensics Gear

Freeland: Press Release of Rohingya Case 

NY Times: Thailand Arrests Four

Bangkok PostSecurity increased for Rohingya trafficking witnesses

Reuters: Arrest of Anwar

ABC: Rohingya’s Current Situation 

BBC NewsThailand graves: Two skeletons found at camps in Phang Nga

ReutersSpecial Report: Inside Thailand’s trafficking Crackdown

Four Corners (45 minute Video News Story) : Journey into Hell

Photo Cred: BBC, Reuters, ABC

Liberty Alliance Counter-Trafficking Leadership Conference

TITLE liberty alliance

In one of our most strategic collaborative efforts to date nearly 150 people came together in Thailand from the surrounding regions to receive tools and information to help fight human trafficking more effectively. It was an honor to host the event this year.

“The Great Wall of China took 2,000 years to build. It was nearly 4,000 miles long, but it was built brick by brick. We are laying bricks in a much greater vision of freedom today. And it will take all of us doing our part. It will be a long fight; but it will happen brick by brick.”

– Matt Parker, CEO, The Exodus Road, in the opening keynote address

Liberty Alliance Registration and Speakers

The workshops and sessions gave the participants opportunities to connect with like-minded people from all three tiers of the fight: prevention, rescue, and after care. Over 50 organizations were represented including from both the government and nongovernment sectors. The Exodus Road was able to fund the expenses of the conference, apart from travel, which took place in a local beach community.

“Strong women fight for the freedom of others. Honored to rub shoulders with these world-changers this week at the Liberty Alliance conference!” – a participant

Liberty Alliance Strong Women

Pictured here: Office of Social Development, SOLD Project, GROW Thailand, Exodus Road

Liberty Alliance Conference Attendee

Liberty Alliance Conference collage

The conference centered around two goals:

1. Encourage collaboration among practitioners.

2. Provide tools and information to equip practitioners to fight trafficking more effectively.

To that end, we had a variety of keynote speakers and break out sessions from both Thai and Westerners, all leaders in their fields of expertise. Some of the sessions included:

  • Innovative Technology Tools to Fight Trafficking
  • After Care: Best Practices and Holistic Care
  • How to Build Successful Cases
  • Rule of Law, Corruption and Slavery: Strengthening Domestic and Regional Cooperation
  • The Repatriation Process for Victims of Trafficking
  • A Panel Discussion “MDT (Multi-Disciplinary Task force) and Victim-Centered Approach” with: Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Abuse Center, Labour Rights Promotion Network, Social Welfare and Protection of Rights Division, Office of Social Development and Human Security, and Fountain of Life Center

Liberty Alliance workshops and panel forums

The attendees had the following to say about their time at the conference:

“Collaboration is essential. If the traffickers can connect together for exploitation, how much more so must we work together for freedom?”

“I think collaboration between GOs and NGOs is essential for producing genuine impact. The strength of this conference was including participants from both sectors.”

“I really appreciate that you arranged this conference….I’ve learned a lot about human-trafficking which is completely new to me at this stage. Thank you!”

“We were treated so well and “rewarded” (through excellent accommodation and food) for being freedom fighters”

“This is amazing. I never thought I’d see this many people from both the government and the NGO community, coming together in such a positive way to fight trafficking.”

Liberty Alliance Conference Attendees

Liberty Alliance Conference gifts

We are excited about the connections that took place at this year’s leadership conference and are hopeful that in connecting in a spirit of unity, great strides for freedom will continue to be made here in SE Asia.

What is The Liberty Alliance? The Liberty Alliance is a program we lead with two partners, Freeland and Liberty Asia, which exists to promote positive collaboration among practitioners in Asia while building capacity for those on the front line. You can learn more here: Liberty Alliance.

Liberty Alliance Exodus Road team

Exodus Road Bloggers Site Launch

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 12.56.53 PM

You know The Exodus Road helps find and free slaves. You know the covert rescue efforts carried out by brave operatives happen in the scariest places on earth. You know the work is necessary, even if it is hard to know.

But, how do you know all this? How did come to discover these needs?

Marketing happened. You received information and you became connected. Most likely you came upon this information one of two ways:

1. Someone you know told you about The Exodus Road.

2. You heard about the issues “somewhere” so you searched for more information and landed on The Exodus Road. “Somewhere” might be an ad, a feed online, a movie, etc.

However it was you became connected; we are grateful. Scientists with big brains determined that people more readily trust someone they know before they trust an unknown source.

Thus, we launched The Exodus Road Bloggers site! We wanted to gather a group of people to magnify the voices of those trapped in human trafficking and bound in sex slavery.

How it works: Fresh, new content is made available every month to bloggers on the site and in newsletters to their email inbox. They use that content to write posts on their personal blogs once a month.

NOT A BLOGGER BUT STILL WANT TO USE YOUR ONLINE INFLUENCE? That works, too! Sign up to get the monthly newsletter, and use the resources as inspiration on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, YouTube, or any outlet you frequently use!

What you’ll get: You get quick content to post on social media or to jump start blogs, connection with other like-minded bloggers, participation in contests and give-aways, blog posts promoted over social media channels through a weekly online newspaper.

What you do: Write a blog post – – copy and paste is fine! – – monthly (if possible!), put our badge on your site, and promote on social media as you can.

How to sign up: You can sign up right now. Follow this link: www.exodusroadbloggers.com

magnify the voices

Hundreds of bloggers and online speakers gather at the site and then write at least once a month about the issues of trafficking and sex slavery. The combined thousands influenced by this group will know more and they will also do more.

We help find and free slaves with strategic action using ordinary people. You are a part of that effort. We mustn’t ever disqualify ourselves because of our perceived range of influence.

Online voices influence specific pockets of people (aka: tribes) more effectively than communication from impersonal organizations. We feed individuals solid facts about the issues of human trafficking and sex slavery then they can act decidedly. The readers trust the person they have a personal connection with, therefore the impact goes deeper, lasts longer, and invokes action. That’s what it’s all about, right? We want people to know more so that they can take action as abolitionists.

Bloggers and social media speakers do that. Our voices, raised in unison against injustice, can change this horrific reality. 

The young girl suffering in a brothel cannot get free on her own. She needs rescue. We can speed freedom as we mobilize our tribes.

Are you a blogger? Are you active online? Do you want to educate your public about human trafficking and sex slavery? If you answered yes to any of those then consider joining this unique group.

You can become a part of the growing group of Exodus Road Bloggers today. Follow THIS LINK to join.

ER_BloggersBannerI am so honored to be leading this powerful group of people as we influence people to act against injustice.

Angie Washington

Communications Manager with The Exodus Road

bloggers @ theexodusroad.com

 

 

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