ChildFund International Blog

In Guatemala, a New Perspective on Family, Education and Opportunity

Outside a school in Casa Blanca, Guatemala

In the village of Casa Blanca, Guatemala.

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

This is the last of three articles this month about Kate’s recent trip to report on ChildFund-supported programs in Guatemala’s highlands. Read the first and second.

This was the second time I’ve been to Guatemala, but it was very different from my first trip, which was a vacation taken with a friend. Both times, I saw plenty of beautiful terrain, including an active volcano, lakes, foliage and mountains.

But during my ChildFund trip, I had the chance to visit places that tourists never go.

Patzite, Guatemala

Patzite, Guatemala.

Here’s a short video I shot from the car during one drive into the highlands; it may seem bumpy, but this was hardly the worst of the roads. This one was paved, after all.

I took Dramamine every morning, just in case.

A tense moment!

A tense moment!

Some moments were a little scary, like when we were trying to cross this ditch being dug for a water line. But we all got in and out each day without serious difficulty, thanks to good planning by my hosts from ChildFund Guatemala’s national office and our local partner organizations in the communities. Not only did they arrange transportation and lodging, but they also spoke to families, teachers and principals so I could interview them.

The most remarkable visit was to a family’s home in Patzite. We met Cristina, the mother of six children — including a baby girl born just the week before. She didn’t even have a name yet. Despite still being in bed, Cristina welcomed us warmly. Two of her children, 8-year-old Wendy Catarina and 7-year-old Marcos, are sponsored through ChildFund.

Inside their home, which had dirt floors and mud-brick walls like many in the region, the children and their mother sat on beds and greeted us. I asked questions about water and electricity (they have running water every third day, and they have electricity, although others in the village don’t), where the baby had been born (at home, with a midwife attending), how the children liked being sponsored.

Siblings Ana Loida, 12; Wendy Catarina, 8; Marcos, 7; and 2-year-old Damaris

Siblings Ana Loida, 12; Wendy Catarina, 8; Marcos, 7; and 2-year-old Damaris

Marcos says of his sponsor, “I have a new friend.” He hopes to be a lawyer, while Wendy wishes to be a doctor. Their 12-year-old sister, Ana Loida, says she likes to write and hopes to be a teacher.

Of course, money factors into those dreams. Ana is in sixth grade, and although Cristina and her husband, who is a day laborer, would like their oldest daughter to continue to high school, the cost of uniforms and books is high. Plus, Wendy has considerable physical problems: poor eyesight, a femur that doesn’t fit right into her hip, and ear and foot issues. Medical assistance costs money, too.

“She has many difficulties,” Cristina says. “Wendy has to leave home early so she gets to school on time. She can’t run or walk fast. She also has to sit near the blackboard. She cries at night because her foot hurts.” The nearest health center is a one-hour walk from their home, and public transportation is available only on Thursday and Sunday.

“If there’s no medicine there, we get a prescription, and we have to buy medicine ourselves,” Cristina says.

Still, she adds, the children have benefited from ChildFund’s presence in the community. Cristina’s first contact was with guide mothers, local women who had received training through ChildFund. “At first, I was a little afraid because I didn’t want people to ask my children things,” she says. But her initial reservations dissipated quickly. “Marcos is happier, and so is Wendy.”

They were enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs six years ago, and both Marcos and Wendy found sponsors at the start of this year. Because only three children can be enrolled per family, Cristina plans to enroll the baby, who’s just starting to wiggle and fuss amid the blankets.

Patzite, Guatemala family

Cristina talks about her family while 12-year-old Ana holds her newborn sister.

Cristina hopes for more opportunities for her children than she’s had. After finishing second grade, her father couldn’t afford to send her back to school, and Cristina had to weave cloth to sell. After a decade of working, she was married at age 18 and began having children. Today, she speaks only her local language, Quiché, although Ana, Marcos and Wendy can speak Spanish.

“After what I’ve seen,” Cristina says, “education is important. I try to make their dreams come true. Not knowing how to speak Spanish — it’s not what I want for my children.”

It’s a real struggle for many of the families I met in Guatemala’s mountains. I hope Cristina’s children and others I met can receive the help they need to continue school and have more options as young adults, whether it’s through sponsorship, grants or some other source. I also hope to return to these villages one day and see the changes for myself.

This Father’s Day, Help Families Start the Reading Habit

siblings reading in the U.S.

Three siblings read at a ChildFund-supported program in the United States. 

Reading habits usually develop within families. Mom and Dad read to a child at bedtime, or an older sibling shows a younger one how to sound out words, or Grandma pulls a book of fairy tales off the shelf. In some homes, though, there are no books. Even in the United States.

That’s why ChildFund started the Just Read! program in some of the most marginalized areas in the country: Native American reservations in Oklahoma and South Dakota, African American communities in Mississippi and Hispanic communities in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. You can learn more about the project and also donate age-appropriate books on our Amazon wish list. For Father’s Day, please consider helping a family develop the reading habit.

African Children Raise Voices for End to Forced Marriage

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Children gather around a memorial structure for 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who was killed in Soweto on June 16, 1976.

Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communication and Administration Manager, and Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea

Today is the International Day of the African Child, a day to honor children’s rights. The continent-wide event looks back to a terrible day in 1976, June 16, when thousands of schoolchildren marched in Soweto, then a township in South Africa, to call for higher-quality education and the right to learn in their own languages.

Hundreds of children were shot. The official number of deaths was 23, but estimates put the number much higher. One of the first casualties, 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, would become the icon of a movement promoting children’s rights. Since 1991, the Day of the African Child has marked the tragedy and served as an occasion to advocate for children’s rights across the continent — and, in particular, for children themselves to raise their voices.

This year, children from seven African countries marched through Soweto from the Mandela House to the Hector Pieterson Monument and Memorial Museum, joined by representatives of the South African government, the United Nations, international nongovernmental organizations and other official bodies.

During the march, children and others chanted slogans against early and forced marriage, this year’s theme for the Day of the African Child: “Don’t talk about us without us!” “Stop early marriage now!” “Girls are not a commodity — do not trade them for money, but send them to school!” Later, children performed dramatic monologues, poems and other speech advocating for children’s rights.

Mamadou, a 14-year-old from Guinea.

Mamadou, a 14-year-old from Guinea.

This year, the Day of the African Child is joined with a parallel celebration of this month’s 25th anniversary of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The African Union crafted the Charter based on the United Nations’ global Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which marked its 25th anniversary in November. The Charter echoes the CRC but is geared more specifically toward Africa’s needs, particularly with regard to protecting children from harmful traditional practices.

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child explicitly calls for all African countries to push the minimum age of marriage to 18, but child marriage — as well as accompanying issues such as early pregnancies and lack of education and job opportunities for young women — remains a challenge throughout Africa, home to 15 of the world’s 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.

“We young girls want to be in a school,” said one girl participating in the march. “That is where we belong — not to marriage.”

Soweto is not the only site where the Day of the African Child is celebrated, and June 16 is not the only day; in Guinea, which is recovering from the Ebola outbreak, thousands of children, joined by government and NGO officials, gathered on June 6 in Siguiri, a prefecture on the Niger River, to launch a Month of the African Child.

Near the site of Guinea’s celebration is a gold mine, and many young children work there, missing school and placing themselves in danger. That was the issue on Mamadou’s mind, and the 14-year-old ninth-grader was excited to exercise his right to speak out: “This moment is an occasion for me to pass messages to parents and even friends,” he said. “In my district, most of the children of my age and even younger are in the gold mine. Some are there through because of pressure from their parents. These children are not attending school. Instead, they spend every day from morning to evening digging hard, rocky ground in search of gold.

“Parents, please help your children to go to school,” he said. “School builds children’s minds and prepares them for tomorrow so that they can be helpful to you.”

He worries about his friends’ thinking that money is the answer to problems. “I am telling them that I agree with them that money is good, but you need to have the education and training to be able to manage money and know how to multiply it,” he said. “I tell my friends who have gone to the mine to go back to school for the education and training that will let them manage money, because school builds the mind.”

Cooperation Amid Isolation in Guatemala’s Highlands

ECD in Guatemala

Mothers and children in Pachichiac, Guatemala, color in masks during an Early Childhood Development program. 

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

This is the second of three articles this month about Kate’s recent trip to report on ChildFund-supported programs in Guatemala’s highlands. Read the first.

In Guatemala’s mountain villages, the sense of isolation hits pretty hard when you see a woman or girl walking on the side of a dirt road while balancing a wrapped load on her head. It’s a dusty, hard slog, and the air is noticeably thin at 6,000 feet. I was breathing hard after a short walk, just carrying my camera and a notebook.

Guatemala child

A boy in Palima wears his mask upside down.

In this sort of environment, it’s difficult to believe that any information could be carried from one village to another. And yet two villages in two different districts had tiny children making nearly identical duck masks in the same week. I was a little surprised.

Early Childhood Development programs are a common thread throughout ChildFund’s work worldwide, but because needs and resources differ, the programs often take different shapes. Here, children and (usually) mothers attend weekly or monthly events at homes with room for small chairs and tables, plus storage space for art supplies. Guide mothers teach children how to count, name colors, say the alphabet and build other skills that will help them when they enter first grade. Mothers in the community attend nutrition classes and other programs that help their children develop properly.

sisters in Guatemala

Sisters Maria Esmeralda, 8, and Hilda Esperanza, 6, make masks in Palima.

The week I visited, children in Palima were coloring the faces of cartoon-like ducks and cutting them out to make masks; in Pachichiac, which was at least a two-hour drive away, children used finger paints to color in their duck masks. Smiles and quacks abounded in both villages.

Seeing consistency throughout the region, even in something as small as two groups of children working on the same project at the same time, was encouraging. The region is about to receive an influx of funding thanks to the Japan Social Development Fund, which has donated $2.75 million through the World Bank to help improve the health and development of 12,200 children younger than 2 who live in Guatemala’s highlands. ChildFund will lead the project, which is expected to start later this year.

More than 13,000 parents of the children will be involved, and the four-year project will cover 100 communities in the states of Huehuetenango, Quiche, San Marcos and Totonicapan, where nine out of 10 people live in poverty. Parents will receive more training and support through a Guatemalan government program providing community health and nutrition services, which encourage breastfeeding, good hygiene and nutritious diets. Also, tutors will show parents how to stimulate children with language, numbers and other concepts, just through daily routines.

Clearly, a project of this magnitude will require great coordination among ChildFund staff members, our local partners, guide mothers and families. But the seeds of teamwork already exist in the mountains, despite the hardships. You can see it behind the duck masks.

Creating New Readers in India

RS29421_pooja 2

Pooja (in white wrap) discusses books from ChildFund with her friends in a village in India’s state of Andhra Pradesh.

By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India

Five months after the launch of ChildFund India’s Books, My Friends campaign, we’re learning more about the children who are getting their first chance to own books and read for pleasure.

This spring, ChildFund India and its campaign partner, Macmillan Education, conducted a baseline assessment of 1,200 children across 15 Indian states, to understand their reading abilities. About 40,000 children have received books and bags since December through the Books, My Friends program.

Pooja with her books.

Pooja with her books.

The analysis showed that reading ability improved with age, although far too many children still can’t read. In the group of 6- to 8-year-olds tested, 66.2 percent were not able to read at all, while 44.8 percent of 11- and 12-year-olds and 29 percent of 13- and 14-year-olds were illiterate. Geography mattered as well, with higher literacy rates in the states of Delhi, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, while Rajasthan, Jharkand and Chhattisgarh had lower rates.

Pooja, 14, who lives in a village in Andhra Pradesh, was able to read at the level of an 8- or 9-year-old when she received her books in December.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to read these books,” she says. Also, most of her time was spent in studying her textbooks or attending classes, so Pooja preferred to get away from books during her leisure time.

But because some of the books she received were in her local language, Telugu, they piqued her interest. Soon, she was enjoying them, and she moved on to the other books in her bag, which were in English. That presented an obstacle, since English is harder for Pooja to read.

With a smile on her face, Pooja says, “My school coordinator has helped me a lot in improving my English reading ability. She would patiently sit with me, make me read these story books and correct me whenever I went wrong. And as soon as I started understanding the stories, I started enjoying them and wanted to read more.”

As a result, Pooja has joined a group of other students who discuss their books.

“This campaign has really helped me make new friends,” she says. “All the students who have received these books have formed a group, and during weekends, all of us sit together to read these books and enjoy chatting with each other. The illustrations in these books make the reading all more interesting. I’m really grateful to ChildFund for giving me these books. Because of this campaign, I’ve made this extra effort to read, and today I can read an entire sentence in English without faltering.”

Reading is an important source of knowledge, happiness, pleasure and even courage. It opens your mind and transports you virtually into newer worlds. It develops your brain and helps in communicating and sharing ideas, and therefore is essential for advancement and development of any society.

Read Rashmi Kulkarni’s first story about Books, My Friends.

A Cow Named Cristina

cow in bolivia

Juanita (left) presents a cow to Diana.

By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager

In Bolivia, Juanita’s two-room house is full. Six family members share three beds, and Juanita cooks in a small kitchen with poor ventilation while her husband works as a day laborer.

But this family is fortunate in other ways. Juanita’s 10-year-old son is sponsored through ChildFund, and his sponsor has written letters and sent small gifts over the years. Two years ago, the family received a cow purchased through ChildFund’s Real Gifts Catalog. The cow has changed Juanita’s life, providing milk and more cattle. Today, the family has two cows and three calves, and Juanita received training on how to care for the cow, breed it and milk it.

Before the cow arrived, Juanita used to bake bread to sell, but she inhaled a lot of smoke and suffered heat exhaustion and back pain. Today, she instead sells surplus milk that her family doesn’t consume or share with other families.

“My life is complete,” she says. “I am a better mother because of these cows. And I am a leader in the community, too. I never could have imagined my life would improve so much with one cow.”

Juanita recently donated a cow to her neighbor Diana, a mother of three young boys. In this way, Juanita is helping transform a community, one cow at a time.

With support from ChildFund’s local partner organization, Juanita chose Diana based on  her family’s need, their participation in community programs and the fact that they have enough land for a cow. Now Juanita will train Diana to care for the cow, whose name is Cristina.

“I will treat Cristina as my only daughter,” Diana said during the brief cow-transfer ceremony. “I will take care of her just as Juanita did. I hope she will grow strong and reproduce, so I can give a calf to someone else in the community very soon. My heart is so full and so thankful.”

With the gift of a cow, the lives of two women and their families are now changed. Transformation is possible, and sometimes it can come in the form of a cow named Cristina.

The Freedom of Speech in Guatemala’s Highlands

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This is a first-grade class at Patzite, Guatemala’s primary school, where more students stay in school than in other communities in the highlands; only 4 percent of its 150 students drop out before sixth grade. Still, a high school in town has only 60 students.  

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

This is the first of three articles this month about Kate’s recent trip to report on ChildFund-supported programs in Guatemala’s highlands.

When ChildFund staff members travel to the field, we often hire translators, even when we have some command of the language being spoken. But in Guatemala’s highlands, I needed two translators: one who could translate Spanish to English, and a second to translate from the local language to Spanish. Often, we asked our local partner organizations to help us out.

Felipe, my Spanish-to-English translator, holds a homemade horse toy at a local home.

Felipe, my Spanish-to-English translator, holds a homemade horse toy at a local home.

It definitely made reporting interesting. A couple of people compared the process to the childhood game of Telephone, which isn’t too far from the truth. Since it was hard to get direct quotes, I relied a lot on skills of observation in Palima, Patzite and Pachichiac, mountain villages that I visited in late April.

Bumpy dirt roads, bright blue tarps draped over mud-brick house frames, the scent of greens cooking on a rustic stove, chickens and dogs running loose, the smell of rain as a storm approached — they all fed my senses. So did the peal of 4-year-old Heidi Karina’s voice as she named colors in her native tongue of Kaqchikel, part of the Mayan family of languages. She’ll learn Spanish in school, but right now, she says räx for green instead of the Spanish verde.

People in these highland villages are isolated from the rest of Guatemala, particularly the capital of Guatemala City and nearby Antigua, where schools, jobs, running water and electricity are far more accessible. Although the highlands are just a couple of hours away from the cities by car, a lack of reliable transportation and job opportunities keeps many families in poverty.

Heidi Karina, 4.

Heidi Karina, 4.

As does the language barrier. Children learn Spanish in school, but most in the highlands don’t attend past sixth grade. How many of you reading this story took high school Spanish or French? And how much of it do you remember?

Anyone hoping for a professional job in Guatemala needs to be fluent in Spanish, and I overheard one person in our party advising a young woman that she also should study English to improve her chances for a job as a social worker. Such advice seems unreachable for people who stop school in the third grade, take up farming or weaving, marry in their teens and have six or seven children to care for. Hopes may be somewhat higher for the children, but few of them progress to high school even now.

A state-maintained highway runs near the district of Quiché, which gives people there an advantage over other communities like Pachichiac, which is far from any main roads. José Mario Lopez Ixcoy, general director of ChildFund’s local partner in Quiché, says that most people there speak some Spanish, at least enough to take menial jobs in cities, although, he adds, “sometimes they feel discriminated against in the city because of their customs.” People can walk half an hour to a bus stop, where buses come twice in the morning and return from the cities twice in the afternoon. School, health care and jobs are easier to reach, as a result.

The people in Guatemala’s highlands will need many things to happen to make school more accessible: better roads, regular transportation, funding for school uniforms and other necessities.

And, according to Aura Maria, a guide mother who lives in Pachichiac, the communities also need more job opportunities, reliable electricity and financial assistance for education and health care.

I learned how to say “thank you” in Quiché, another Mayan language: Maltiox, pronounced mal-tee-osh. It took a fair amount of practice, and although I got comfortable with saying it during the visit, the word is already starting to fade from my memory a month later.

Let’s not let the same happen with children who depend on us to think of their futures.

A boy outside his classroom at Patzite's grammar school.

A boy outside his classroom at Patzite’s grammar school.

 

Cyclists, Businesses Take on ChildFund’s 10-Bike Challenge

ChildFund President & CEO Anne Goddard announces our partnership with Richmond 2015 as the "Official Charity of Choice" for September's UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia.

ChildFund President & CEO Anne Goddard announces our partnership with Richmond 2015 as the “Official Charity of Choice” for September’s UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia.

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer; Photos by Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Content Manager

This morning, ChildFund launched the 10-Bike Challenge in connection with the UCI Road World Championships, which will bring more than 1,000 elite cyclists from 75 countries to the streets of Richmond, Virginia, in September. The organizer of the nine-day event, Richmond 2015, has named ChildFund as its “Official Charity of Choice.”

As part of our cooperative effort, we’re asking Richmond businesses to raise $1,000 to purchase 10 Dream Bikes for girls in 12 countries who need them to get to and from school. Our goal is to raise enough funds to pay for 3,400 bicycles, and we’re well on our way, with pledges from Richmond PR firm Hodges Partnership, Covington Travel and Tredegar, a Richmond-based global manufacturer of plastic films and aluminum extrusions, which has made a $25,000 grant.

“We are so happy that the world is coming to Richmond this September,” ChildFund President & CEO Anne Goddard said at today’s power breakfast at Richmond Cycling Corps. She noted that many children interviewed for the ChildFund Alliance’s annual Small Voices Big Dreams survey say they wish to continue their educations, despite many obstacles.

In developing countries, children who say they want to stay in school usually don’t mean attending college, Goddard pointed out. “What these kids are talking about is finishing grammar school, middle school or sometimes high school. Instead of riding buses, these kids get to school by walking.” Snakes, rough terrain and people who don’t have children’s best interests at heart present serious obstacles, she said. A bike helps speed up the commute, as well as making it safer.

“From the very beginning, we’ve talked about Richmond 2015 as being bigger than just a bike race,” said Lee Kallman, marketing and communications director of Richmond 2015. “The Dream Bike program really demonstrates the power of the bicycle.”

Mari Holden, sports director of the Twenty16 professional women’s cycling team (as well as an Olympic silver medalist and six-time U.S. championship winner), said that her cyclists have accepted the 10-Bike Challenge, too. “This Dream Bike program really resonates with our core values,” she said, naming education and empowering girls.

Holden added later, “I think for us, cycling is a sport where we learn about perseverance.” It’s different for girls in developing countries, who must show perseverance just to attend school, as opposed to competitive cycling, but Holden says that she and her team are all for helping girls become educated and reach their goals.

Liz Gluck of Covington Travel, the Richmond-based travel agency that has taken the 10-Bike Challenge, says that the owner, Josée Covington, has pledged to match her employees’ donations, and they’re already halfway to the $1,000 goal. “We just thought it was a great cause, to support ChildFund and empower girls.”

Josh Dare, co-founder of the Hodges Partnership, said that if his firm of 15 people can take the challenge, so can other smaller and midsized companies. “What a great opportunity this is,” he said. “I’m thinking of this as our own bike rally. Let’s rise to this challenge.”

You, too, can help girls continue their educations by donating a Dream Bike.

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An Uphill Battle for Kindergartners in Vanuatu

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Celina Amos, the head teacher of a village kindergarten in Efate, Vanuatu, plays with Paloma, 5, (left) and Luisa, 3. The kindergarten was destroyed by Cyclone Pam on March 13. Photos by Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

By ChildFund Australia staff, with reporting from Live & Learn Vanuatu

Schools officially reopened in Vanuatu at the end of March, just weeks after the destructive Cyclone Pam wiped out homes and schools across the Pacific island nation on March 13. But for thousands of younger children, school is still out of session because Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education does not fund kindergartens. ChildFund Australia and its local partner Live & Learn Vanuatu are working to rebuild two of them.

Kindergartens are generally funded though school fees and small-scale fundraising by local communities. However, fundraising at a time when many families are rebuilding their homes, gardens and livelihoods is extremely difficult, and raising fees is likely to result in fewer children attending class, leaving younger children most vulnerable.

ChildFund Australia, our Alliance partner, is working with Live & Learn Vanuatu to help rebuild two destroyed kindergartens on the outskirts of Port Vila. The schools are being constructed using cyclone-resistant architectural design and will include rainwater systems and toilets so children have access to safe water and sanitation. Both kindergartens will also be wheelchair accessible.

vanuatu kindergarten

Progress on a new kindergarten in Port Vila.

“The project goal is to rebuild both kindergartens to get the children back into a normal and stable learning environment within four months of Cyclone Pam, without placing further financial burden on the communities or parents,” says Anjali Nelson, team leader of Live & Learn Vanuatu.

Live & Learn has engaged a team of local professional builders to support the reconstruction effort, as well as volunteer workers from the two communities. On one of the sites, a group of volunteer builders from New Zealand also pitched in for 10 days.

The project is on track, but a shortage of construction materials and a severe lack of water have caused problems.

“The biggest issue so far has been the acute shortage of water in the area,” Nelson says. “Although we have had a period of heavy rain, we couldn’t collect sufficient quantities of water for the concrete mix, mainly due to the shortage of water tanks and drums, which were destroyed in the cyclone. Instead, we had to truck in water, which has slowed down the rebuilding process.”

Still, working together with the community, and with patience and a lot of improvising, the team has managed to keep the project on schedule, and at this stage the kindergartens are due for completion by mid-July.

Together with Live & Learn, ChildFund Australia plans to support families of the kindergartners by providing chickens, poultry management training and seedlings for home gardens.

You can help us be prepared for emergencies like this by donating to our Emergency Action Fund

Eat the Bun First!

Sri Lanka new year

ChildFund Sri Lanka sent us this picture from the Sinhalese/Tamil New Year’s Day celebration, held in April. To celebrate, our local partner organization Abhimana in Dambulla, a town in central Sri Lanka, held a party. Here, you see children with their hands behind their backs trying to be the first one to eat a whole bun. The first to finish wins a prize!

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