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Time is of the Essence

Time is of the Essence

The children of Afghanistan continue to be the victims of wars. Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, the people of Afghanistan have endured lives filled with deprivation, brutality and anguish. Over 1.5 million children have lost one or both parents, and over 700,000 orphans are living in sub-poverty conditions. Sadiq's new goal is the construction of a new medical clinic in Herat, Afghanistan. Exclusive interview with Sadiq Tawfiq.

Sadiq Tawfiq is the founder and past President of the Herat Rotary Club as well as founder of Afghan Amity. Sadiq Tawfiq is the founder and past President of the Herat Rotary Club as well as founder of Afghan Amity.ANNICK:  I am delighted today to be speaking with Long time Laguna Beach California resident and Khyber Pass property owner, Mr. Sadiq Tawfiq Welcome. Tawfiq is your legal name in the United States but your given name is Saferzadeh. What brought about the change to Tawfiq?

SADIQ: When I returned to Afghanistan after 22 years, I realized that everyone knew me because of my family name ‘Saferzadeh’. When I applied for my visa in 1979 from the US Embassy in Kabul I was asked for my first and last name. I gave ‘Sadiq’ as my first name and ‘Tawfiq’ being my middle name as my last name, but they did not ask me for my family name which is ‘Saferzadeh’. 

ANNICK:  You were Born and raised in Herat City in the province of Herat which is well known as the first major battleground in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Herat has a population of approximately 1,800,000. What do you remember from the years you grew up there?  What marked you the most?

Sadiq Tawfiq at the khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beach, California Sadiq Tawfiq at the khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beach, CaliforniaSADIQ: Herat is a city of historical buildings, and a place of art and history, and big mosques showing the beauty of the architecture, where there are many gardens of pomegranates, grapes and rose fields (Gardens).  It was a land of poetry and well educated, peaceful people living an easy life. Peace and prosperity and cooperation that is what I remember.

ANNICK:  You attended the University Department of Education and became a Tribal Art Expert. Have you always been attracted to the Arts and Culture of your country? 

Children at school in AfghanistanChildren at school in AfghanistanSADIQ:  Yes, I attended Kabul University Department of Education (KU) which had a rich culture of history and academic excellence. I was there as an under graduate student. The culture and art of Afghanistan always interested me from an early age, as I traveled to villages to interview the weavers, artists and elderly people to learn more about their traditions and history which were passed on from generation to generation.

ANNICK:  As a young man, did you have any idea that one day you would be building schools and a hospital in Afghanistan? 

SADIQ: It was always my desire to work and help Afghanistan with education; but I never thought that one day my country would be destroyed by the communists and other fanatics and that it would be necessary for me and others to help build schools and hospitals instead  I felt that it was the responsibility of  the Afghan government to  do this with the help and the cooperation of the UN and others who are much better equipped for such a tremendous task.

City of Herat (Photo source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan)City of Herat (Photo source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan)ANNICK:  We know from the television news that it is extremely dangerous to travel to Afghanistan. Is it really that dangerous to be there and how often do you return to your country and visit your family?

SADIQ: Yes, it is dangerous to travel near the rough Pakistani-Afghan border because of the Taliban's dramatic attacks but if you travel in the city and surrounding areas it is safe, and not as dangerous as most people think it is. I go back to my country two, three times a year and I enjoy being able to visit my family and meet with friends, students and their teachers, great people working for the non-governmental organization (NGO) and to be witnessing the change of history.

ANNICK:  You are an entrepreneur and a healing presence for the people of Afghanistan. Do you have any family in the US?

A fund raising booth for the future hospital of Herat in AfghanistanA fund raising booth for the future hospital of Herat in AfghanistanSADIQ: My mother is living in the US and thank God she is in good health and can live by herself. Her children live close by and are looking after her well being. She recently returned from visiting families and friends for four weeks in Afghanistan. She is doing well and has a great spirit. She is very positive. My father passed away when I was thirteen years old, so I became the man of the family from an early age. My mother did not want to marry again because she had five children under the age of 13. My younger sister was only six months old when my father died from a common cold because there was no adequate medical care, nor a doctor or a decent hospital available to take care of him. That is one of the main reasons why I really feel responsible for the construction of a new hospital or a clinic thanks to the help of the Americans and USAID and the UN and NGOs (non governmental organizations) raising funds in the City of Herat. People continue to die because of the lack of adequate medical facilities.  About 40% of the children die before the age of 5yrs old. And that really breaks my heart.

ANNICK:  How old were you when you first came to the US and what brought you to California?

A little Afghan girlA little Afghan girlSADIQ: I was twenty three years old when I came to the US to study and to earn my Master's in higher education at the University of California in Irvine.

ANNICK:  As a young man coming from Afghanistan to study, what was it like to be able to come to North America to finish your education and discover a whole new culture? 

SADIQ Coming to the United States from Afghanistan with only a tourist visa was just like planning to travel to the moon; when you consider the difficulties of language and culture, plus the financial, it was not an easy thing to do. It was very difficult. Don’t forget that I was coming from a much simpler way of life compared to a very fast and complex life style.

ANNICK:  You arrived in the US a week prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Do you recall how you felt at that moment when you learned the sad news? 

Sadiq Tawfiq with a familySadiq Tawfiq with a familySADIQ: Yes I remember very well. It was extremely difficult to see my country being bombed by Soviet planes killing our people, and destroying the history and culture; the historical buildings, factories and gardens and killing the few animals that we had. It was very sad to witness the pride and dignity of such a historical country with over 5000 years of history to be violated and totally decimated. 

ANNICK:  This is a country that too often is being painted at its worse by the Media.  Do you think it is a good thing for the Americans to be there, today and will the rest of the world join forces to bring change and make it a better place for the Afghan people?

Sadiq's wife, Asma and his sister-in-law, Roya.Sadiq's wife, Asma and his sister-in-law, Roya.SADIQ: Afghanistan is in the news every day unfortunately. The Media paints the news at its worse, it is true. It is good to see that Americans are there to help Afghans but  in order to see Afghanistan get back on its feet, we need more young people to be trained to become policemen, teachers, technicians and much more; the military needs training too. I believe that the Afghans will be able to be in charge of a new Afghanistan within rather a short time.

The most important project to start would be to help build new roads and highways, help assisting hand craft and tourism which would create jobs for millions of Afghans, men and women who grew up with war all their lives.  At the same time, this would allow all young men and women to be busy serving their country and the people of Afghanistan instead of joining forces with the wrong groups of people who are against them.  The United States is spending a lot of money on unqualified Afghan translators who are working within the military and are often making some serious mistakes that end up killing innocent people sometimes by sending out the wrong messages to the Afghan people which makes everyone wonder about the presence of the US in Afghanistan. Many people in Afghan villages are now thinking that they do not have friends after all there to help them rebuild a country that has suffered dramatically during the last thirty years.

Sadiq Tawfiq with physicians on the land where the hospital will be built in Herat, AfghanistanSadiq Tawfiq with physicians on the land where the hospital will be built in Herat, AfghanistanANNICK:  You have gone through a lot in life and yet, you are a very successful business man living in a very special and wealthy community along the seaside of California south of Los Angeles. Do you consider yourself very lucky and a happy man today?

SADIQ: Happiness is not about where you live and all the things that you possess or how much money you have in your bank account and what type of business you own, it comes from your heart. Happiness is when you are able to help others making a difference by offering your time and wealth. We have a nice poem that says: “Cho ASTADAI, DAST OFTADEH GIR” which is in all Afghan hearts. It means “if you can stand on your own feet, reach out and take the hand of those who have fallen to the ground.” 

Land where the hospital will be built in Herat, AfghanistanLand where the hospital will be built in Herat, AfghanistanYes, I am a happy man because I have everything that I need to have. I have a good health, wonderful family, good friends, a rich background, and I am able to help other people. All of this contributes to my happiness. So, yes I consider myself very grateful to live and work in a prosperous country such as the United States. For the last 30 years, I have a business which represents the arts and culture of Afghanistan allowing me to earn a good and humble living with my family and friends and like I said, the chance to be able to donate my time and money to help others.  On the other hand, the financial challenges and hardship of California are affecting me and my goals.

ANNICK:  Let’s go back into time. You came to study to the United States and find yourself stuck in California not being able to return at home. How did you feel when you discovered that you weren’t able to go back and be with your family? 

AfghanistanAfghanistanSADIQ: It was very hard and unexpected; I felt like my freedom and human rights were violated totally. I had no choice but to accept it. As a young man full of energy, emotions and feelings, I wanted to return home to work and become part of rebuilding my country. I just wanted a happy and normal life with my family and all my friends. I wanted to help Afghanistan and its people for a better quality of life and to become a part of the peace and prosperity of the world.

ANNICK:  After thirty years living in the United States now; do you see it as a true blessing in order to be able to offer more to the people of Afghanistan? 

SADIQ: Absolutely, it is a real blessing for me to live and work with family and friends living in a safe and prosperous environment. I was shocked to see the invasion of a small country by a big aggressive Communist country such as the Soviet Union. I witnessed no justice and no humanity from our neighbors. It is also a real blessing to see that this whole system of evil of communism is gone.

The khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beach, California The khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beach, CaliforniaIt is very sad to know that millions of Afghans were victims of this dramatic invasion. At that time, I was thinking to contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan but today, I think that what I must do is more about cleaning up the damages created by nonstop wars. It looks like it is my real call. When I hear and see so many of my friends and family over there being victims of such terrible crimes, I feel very sad.

ANNICK:  As we all know, today the world is not doing well. As a Muslim, I must think that the dramatic event of September 11 in New York City must have been very difficult for you to deal with people who often express so much hatred toward people coming from the Middle East.

SADIQ: Indeed, those are very sad memories for me.   I will never forget how difficult it was at some point and still is. I was shocked and my heart was sad and my spirit was very depressed for months.  I kept asking myself “How could this have happened?” 

AfghanistanAfghanistanIt is difficult to understand who could do such evil? Whoever it is, these are uneducated people filled with false propaganda because we know our lives are all connected. Fortunately, living in a small community of Laguna Beach, I was very well protected.

Doing business in a small town full of intellectual members of an active community and the Chamber of Commerce including the Rotary Club helped me a lot. I was very well protected so it did not hurt me as much as it did to my business. I think that in general, life has changed for all of us and especially for all Muslims living in North America. There are a lot of ignorant people who are talking about Islam in a very negative way including the Media who are influencing the mind and spirit of millions of good people. Their remarks are based on very little information on the Quran and Islam. All those news made people very upset and confused about everything.

ANNICK:  Yes, it is sad. What touches one, touches everyone so it is easy to hurt many people. Most people just listen to the TV and do not investigate on their own. It is so true. Sadiq, today you own a beautiful store in one of the most beautiful cities of the United States. Your store is a veritable museum of history where one can find about anything regarding Afghanistan from clothing to furniture and objects of art representing a culture that goes back to 5000 years in history. You must be very proud of yourself because it represents so much work and shows a lot of passion. It really shows how much you love Afghanistan. How do feel about all you have done so far?

Asma recieving certificate of appreciation from the head of the school.Asma recieving certificate of appreciation from the head of the school.SADIQ: I am honored and humble when you say I have one of the most beautiful stores in a beautiful city. Yes, I am proud that I have the ability to display the real work of art of Afghanistan which has such rich and deep history. I am happy to share it all with those who come to visit my store. My mission is to be a voice for the voiceless of Afghans who created such a rich culture that survived thousands of years. Also my goal is to make sure that the arts and culture survive through the destruction of such a beautiful country. In my own way, I am like a true ambassador of Afghanistan when it comes to the history of such beautiful country by teaching those who are interested in discovering this country which has a lot more to offer than war. Historically Afghanistan is a very rich country and it deserves to be presented properly with rich and beautiful handcrafts, art, poems and poetry I wish that the financial situation in US becomes better so that I can see the results of trade and sales. This is a very difficult time for all of us.

Sadiq Tawfiq at the khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beach, California Sadiq Tawfiq at the khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beach, CaliforniaANNICK:  In 2004, you opened 2 schools for orphans. What are the names of these two schools?  What type of salary a teacher makes there? I hear it is not much but then again life must be a lot cheaper there.

SADIQ: I do what I can to make a difference. I opened two schools in Afghanistan to help Afghans move forward. One school is called ‘Phoenix Art and Education’; it is a school for boys and girls. The second school is called ‘Women’s Center for Art and Education.’ The Current Salary for each teacher is around $100 per month but you must remember that people in general live a very simple life and have only one or two monthly bills to pay. Most people ride a bicycle instead of driving a car. The living standard is a lot less than in the United States. Some people live well but the technology is not there, yet. Most people are happy with what God provides them and never think about living in bigger homes and owing cars, televisions and going on vacation to exotic places. There are no credit cards are available, yet. Many people live close to each other with the support of the elderly and family members sharing everything.  Also, they are grateful when they go to college and are getting married. Daily life is a real fact and a true experience by itself. They don’t live to show off what they have to others.

Sadiq's wife, Asma with their youngest son Sina and their little girl Sofia.Sadiq's wife, Asma with their youngest son Sina and their little girl Sofia.ANNICK:  Of course, we say ‘the less we have, the happier we are’ and  that I believe in this. Why have you named one of the schools “Phoenix”? 

SADIQ: I have a much respected doctor friend who is 85 years old and suggested that I name one of the school ‘Phoenix’ once she discovered about my service to the people of Afghanistan. One day, she came to me and said ‘I would like to support your efforts, may I propose a name for your school?’  I liked that and accepted her choice with great respect. Also the name of Phoenix means to rise from ashes so that made a lot of sense to me. I liked that and could imagine Afghanistan rising once more from ashes after 30 years of total destructive wars. So, the name of Phoenix touched me very deeply and was quite appropriate for the school.  Also, my friends and teachers liked the name of Phoenix a lot because English names are well respected in Afghanistan among educated people. It reflects education.

Afghan girls (photo: Spirit of America)Afghan girls (photo: Spirit of America)ANNICK:  You are like the angel of the city of Herat. Your desire to do so much for the people who have lost everything is beautiful. Please, tell us more about the two schools of Herat. How old are the students attending the schools?  Are boys and girls attending classes together same as in the West?  What are the main subjects being taught at school? How many classrooms? As you see, I could go on with my questions.

SADIQ: You are so kind with your words toward me. I am very happy that God gave me the chance to be able to do so much and gave me the strength, the desire and energy to go back to my native country and do something for all these Afghans who are suffering so much. You know, I am really doing what I am supposed to do. I feel it is my duty to help my country and would think that all Afghans being blessed and living well should feel the same way. It is a real honor to be part of the reconstruction of such a beautiful country.

School children, AfghanistanSchool children, AfghanistanANNICK:  You are an amazing human being. Improving the life of others is the mission that we should all have on this planet. I understand that you are providing the opportunity to 600 children to receive an education. Are they all orphans? 

SADIQ: Thank you for your appreciation and encouragements. Again, I am just at the service of people who are less fortunate than I am. Not all students are orphans, many come from poor families; but really my goal is the education for all of the children, and my heart is for the orphans and children who are growing up in the streets during all these years of war. This is a country where everyone has been hurt severely. We also have classes for illiterate elderly people. One of our students is a grandmother, too. All ages are welcome but most students are between 5 and 25 years old.  Some young women who were not allowed to attend school during the Taliban’s regime and are now married with children, are attending school to learn English, Computer, Art, Sewing and Embroidery. Some other subjects are mathematics, poetry and painting... 

School children, AfghanistanSchool children, AfghanistanANNICK:  The two schools are completed and running well thanks to you and now you are working on a very special project, the construction of a hospital in Herat. As we all know, it takes money to do just about anything I can’t imagine how expensive it must be to build a new hospital. Are we talking about millions of US dollars to build it? 

SADIQ: Building a clinic or a small hospital in my home town of Herat would be very nice and will cost millions of dollars. At this time we need 20 million US Dollars to build a 200-bed hospital to welcome many patients. This project is moving forward just. About 25-acres, prominently located along one of the principal paved highways of the Silk Road in Herat, has already been donated by the Herat University and the Afghan government.

Before war kites, or gudiparan bazi (kite flying) were a common hobby of Afghans in Afghanistan.Before war kites, or gudiparan bazi (kite flying) were a common hobby of Afghans in Afghanistan.Organizations may contribute to this huge humanitarian project and everyone is welcome to donate to help make this project go faster. The Afghan Amity Society’s Grant Writing and Fundraiser events might help fulfill our mission of building a clinic and possibly a hospital, too. The blue prints are based on historical architectural buildings using local materials for the construction and site and the beautiful work of local Afghan builders and workers. Herat Teaching Hospital - the "New Heart of Herat"-- a planned 200-bed teaching hospital that will include modern treatment facilities, classrooms and laboratories, dormitories, and a public meeting space. It will happen.

ANNICK:  How do you find the right people to help you on this beautiful project? Isn't it a real headache?

SADIQ: Not at all, this is a joy for me to work on this project. It is my dream to come true soon. Many professionals are working together with a team of Grant Writing Professionals from the University. Like I said, we have a famous International Architect who is working on the blueprints. I also have a Marketing person and many friends who are specialized in the construction of clinics and hospitals. Our last meeting all together regarding the hospital construction was on Saturday, September 19 and many good things are truly happening. It’s very encouraging and today, I know exactly where we stand on this remarkable humanitarian project.  We are still in two phases: planning and research. That’s where we are at.  Our professional team is committed to make this dream come to life.

Sadiq Tawfiq and Asma TawfiqSadiq Tawfiq and Asma TawfiqANNICK:  How do you find the proper medical staff like surgeons, nurses and others?

SADIQ: We have many medical professionals working in Herat and we have an offer from the nursing school in addition to building a clinic in the first phase, and then the hospital in second phase.  The Herat Medical School and the Herat Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) are ready to help, too. And, the Rotary International Club is ready to transfer many surgeons and medical specialists to Herat to help us out. We have contacted a few organizations and Afghan doctors from Europe and the US who could offer their help once the building is up. It will all happen once we start our fundraising and grant writing business. We need a lot of help and much support next to receive some funds to make this beautiful project happen.

The khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beach, California The khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beach, CaliforniaANNICK:  What a great feeling to be at the head of such a remarkable humanitarian project. Congratulation to you is in order. Once all these projects are completed, do you have something else in mind?

SADIQ: My plan is for this hospital to become very successful.  I would like to see more hospitals and clinics similar to those being built all over Afghanistan. I dream about a lot of good things to do to help rebuild my country of Afghanistan. I like to see them do well and for that I must stay focused and my feet on earth. It is really one step at the time. 

ANNICK:  In order to put your plans into execution, you probably have to be at two places at once. I’m thinking of being in Herat, Afghanistan at the same time as being in Laguna Beach at same time as being in Afghanistan. How do manage it all?

Mr Husini and Afghan RobabMr Husini and Afghan RobabSADIQ: I have a few good family friends here and many relatives in Afghanistan so it helps. This work cannot be done by just one or two persons. There is a Board of Directors in Afghanistan and in the US to manage, run and support this project. Also, a US management team will be there for periods of time to make sure everything is in order. A good team for maintaining and running the business will be created. I need a good supervisor to connect us all between Afghanistan and the US. I really hope to play an excellent role for this fabulous job and in order to do this I must stay in California and travel there, as well. 

ANNICK:  When you return to your native country what do you take with you? I’m thinking of maybe bringing lots of donations such as school supplies to be distributed to all 600 students. Am I right? Are Californian companies and organizations helping you or is it all at your expense?

Sadiq Tawfiq at a funraiser event, CaliforniaSadiq Tawfiq at a funraiser event, CaliforniaSADIQ: I usually bring medicine and some school supplies but I cannot take much because most of it is being shipped. I bring greetings and excitement with me and that is good to encourage others to help. Also, I bring some American candies for the students and small gifts for the teachers. Everyone needs to be encouraged.

ANNICK:  Tell us about the email that you received one day after spending some time in Afghanistan as the founder and president of the Rotary International Club in Herat. It was about a 6 year old boy who was terribly disfigured when a propane gas burner in his family’s poor home exploded.  What happened and how were you able to help him?

The khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beauch, California The khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beauch, CaliforniaSADIQ: Yes, this young boy came to America and thanks to God was treated by Dr. Peter Grossman at the Grossman Burn Center in Los Angeles. Then he went back to Afghanistan. He is doing fine. At this time we are dealing with another girl who has a similar problem and is being treated here in the US as well...

ANNICK:  Are you a religious person? You don’t have to answer if you would rather not.

SADIQ: No I am not. To me religion is the freedom of being a good human being, knowing that God is within you. I am blessed with all the good morality that religion offers. I am Adam, which means that I am within the religion of humanities and that is the religion of all. I look to the religion of Romi who is my mentor in Life (MOWLANA JALALDIN ROMI BALKHI) and was born in Afghanistan 700 years ago. I am sure you know about him.

The khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beauch, California The khyber Pass Gallery, Laguna Beauch, CaliforniaANNICK:  Are you talking about Rumi who was born in Afghanistan in the year of 1207 and died in Turkey at the age of 66 years old. What is the difference between Romi and Rumi?  Are they the same people? What attracts you to the poems of Rumi?

SADIQ: I really enjoy reading and understand Rumi, there is no difference between Romi and Rumi. They bring me a real understanding of life and a true message of humanities and purity. It helps me reach my goal and understand the meaning of life and the quality of each human being experiencing a day to day life and appreciation of life in this world. I consider myself a traveler who likes to travel light.

ANNICK:  The Sufi saint Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273) is considered "the supreme genius of Islamic mysticism," and has been called ',the greatest mystical poet of any age."  Sadiq, would you mind sharing a short poem with our readers?

Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi's poetry has influenced Persian literature as well as Urdu, Punjabi and other Pakistani languages written in Perso/Arabic script e.g. Pashto and Sindhi. (Rumi 1207-1273)Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi's poetry has influenced Persian literature as well as Urdu, Punjabi and other Pakistani languages written in Perso/Arabic script e.g. Pashto and Sindhi. (Rumi 1207-1273)SADIQ: Grab the seeds let the shell go. This poem is in Farsi language.

Assalamu 'Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu
From Maulana Rume' (Rehmatullahi ’Alaih) Mathnavi

If there is any lover in the world, 0 Muslim, it is I.
If there is any believer, infidel, or Christian hermit, it is I.
The wine, the cup-bearer, the musician, the instrument and the music,
The beloved, the candle, the liquor and the inebriation, it is I.
The seventy-two religious sects in the world
Do not really exist;
I swear by God every religious sect-it is I.
Earth, air, water and fire: do you know what they are?
Earth, air, water and fire-and the soul as well; it is I
Truth and falsehood, good and evil, pleasure and suffering, beginning and end,
Knowledge, learning, asceticism, devotion and faith-it is I.
Be assured that the fire of hell and its flames,
Paradise, Eden and the angels of heaven-it is I.
Heaven and earth and all they hold: angels, demons, and men - it is I.

ANNICK:  It has been very nice chatting with you, Sadiq. Seeing all your accomplishments and services provided to others is a great example for all of us; you are part of a changing world. You see. You think. You act. We should be following your pattern. There is so much to do around us.

SADIQ: Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk with you, Annick. I am a person who likes to learn from others. You are doing a wonderful job yourself.  I appreciate your help and support. You know, I’m just a person like everyone else.

ANNICK:  It was a real honor for me, Sadiq as well as for Treasures of Wonderment readers. Maybe some of them would like to help so I will be happy to add some information below to help you raise some money to build the hospital.  What is the best way for anyone to contact you?

SADIQ: Thank you very much. The best way to contact me is to either call me at (949)494-8284 to make an appointment or send me an e-mail to stawfiq@khyberpass. Please visit my website at:  All donations for the hospital to be built in Herat, Afghanistan are welcome. –

(Photo banner: Afghan children wait to receive basic medical care and clothing on Camp Clark, Khowst province, Afghanistan, Dec. 22, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith/Released)

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