keeping track of my adventures in guiding!

Three year blogiversary

So, wordpress tells me I’ve now been blogging for three years! I guess time flies when you’re having fun!

Given this milestone, perhaps it is time to pause and ponder the changes that have occurred over the three years:


My unit has gone from struggling to maintain three viable mixed-age patrols across Juniors and Seniors to now having three full patrols in both age groups (so six patrols in total), with enough numbers and age range to the point that we are closing the books for new members in the seniors group until next year, barring any major and unexpected drop off in numbers. The juniors group is also close to full, with only three places available – and two of those earmarked for newbies who came to visit last week. Having a big unit (big for our space and our experience) is a new challenge and one that will take some time to settle I think.

Its interesting how suddenly things transition from “ooh how exciting we’ve got lots of kids!” to “oh my gosh there are so many and how do I manage this?!”. I suppose like every change, it will feel strange for a while, then we’ll start adapting our processes and ways of managing the flow of kids and activities and it will become the new normal. Perhaps in a year’s time I’ll be all blasé about having five patrols in each age group… or panicking about having only one!!


Our leadership team dropped down from five to two in quick succession eighteen months or so ago (losing one leader to life pressures, and two to interstate moves), but has over the past six-twelve months has gradually re-grown to now have three full leaders and two in training, which is just wonderful. Of course you never can tell where lives will go, but our new group of five has a ‘long haul’ type feeling to it, so I hope that comes true. I also really hope that we figure how to become a genuine team, with everyone getting the opportunity to both lead and assist, and that we each have time to learn the skills and quirks of each person so we can all play to our strengths 🙂

Badges and program

I think a strength of our unit during this period has been the shift towards doing a badge a term – the structure of the badge requirements provides us leaders with some boundaries, and forces us to be creative in a way that a genuinely “whatever you like” situation would not inspire. I think we’re better for the structure, and I think the girls (and families?) really like that with regular attendance the girls will gradually gain a number of badges, and I think they also appreciate that the rate of badge acquisition slows as they move from Juniors and into Seniors, as the requirements get more stringent and particular, and they often have to add on out-of-unit-time activities to meet the requirements.

Well, I’m sure there is more to ponder, but lets leave that for another day. In general though, this little blog has brought me much pleasure to put together over the past three years, and I hope that it has been of at least some interest to those who stumble upon it 🙂



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Kitchen experimenting

A fun night last night as I helped out with trying to re-establish our Rangers unit with our high school aged girls. We had our upper seniors, plus one ranger… no girls from Sister Unit… so… hmm. I guess we’ll see whether this re-establishment works!!

Regardless, the group had fun, doing a masterchef mystery box challenge – RangersLeader and I brought along the ‘pantry’ items (milk, eggs, flour, sugar, spaghetti, a tin of tomatoes, salt and pepper… a couple of other bits and pieces), and the girls each brought two things for the ‘mystery’ component.

After much fussing about, they ended up making a pasta dish with tomatoes, tuna, carrots and “waaaay too much” mixed herbs, some biscuity-pancake-y messes, and some pudding-ish thing. Not sure that any of it would be regarded as gourmet… or even properly edible, but they had fun! The opportunity to just “play” in the kitchen doesn’t happen very often, so I think they enjoyed the novelty of that if nothing else… and the pleasure of just having the older girls together 🙂

Meanwhile, the main unit went on a penny hike- splitting into Juniors and Seniors so the size of the group wasn’t too overwhelming – luckily we have enough leaders now to make this sort of thing possible, even with me out of the mix playing with rangers! The Juniors girls were all excited about just being allowed out at night (walking in the dark and cold is not really a standard thing for that age in our area!), while the Seniors had fun entirely regressing in age as they found The Other Playground (not to be confused with The Park we often go to!) and mucked about on the equipment in the dark without feeling “too old” for it as they weren’t surrounded by shouting six year olds 🙂

In recruitment related news- Newbie Prospective Senior returned and took forms, and two Newbie Prospective Juniors came along and seemed super keen, asking all about uniform etc! If all that comes through, we will officially be full in Seniors/Uppers, and have only one place in Juniors (after some discussion we’ve decided to cap both groups at 18 for ratio and wrangling purposes)… which given we have 2 kids due to move up to Seniors next term may prove tricky… hmm.

Still, a nice problem to have!!

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Making World Guiding facts fun and fabulous!

Want to strike fear of a boring night into a group of Guides?

Tell them you’ll be working through the criteria for the “World Guiding” Achieve A Challenge badge. The clauses include such scintillating requirements as “know what WAGGGS stands for and who can become a member”, “Name all of the WAGGGS countries of the Asia Pacific Region”, “locate the four World Centres on a map”.

Guaranteed snoozearama, right?

At any rate, certainly the type of information which could very easily be reduced to “read this” “list this” and “memorise this”.

I’m sure I speak for 10 year olds everywhere when I say BORRRRR-ING!!


After much pondering, I came up with what I thought might be a way to get this info into a fun package – and WOOHOO! – it actually worked!

So how do you make boring into fun? Add competition, speed, and prizes!

Essentially, we ended up with a quiz night, with four rounds of activities, with patrols competing for points/markers (as indicated by coloured paddlepop sticks) at each stage, and the overall winning patrol getting a prize.

Round one: World Centres

Each patrol was given an atlas, and I read out the address (broadly) of the world centres. The first patrol to find the location, raise their hands, and point it correctly out on the map won a marker.

We started off easy with “Pax Lodge, London, United Kingdom”, then progressed to Sangam, Our Cabana, and Our Chalet in the same format. Then as a bonus round, there were five points up for grabs as I read out the five countries which have been involved in the Fifth World Centre project (Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria) – all they had to do was find the country.

Round two: WAGGGS member countries

Using the atlases again (although we switched them around, as each patrol had a different format atlas, and each had good and bad points), the girls competed to correctly name WAGGGS countries in each region.

Firstly, I put out a map of the regions, and got them to have a proper look at it – the WAGGGS regions don’t match directly with continents, which was going to make things a bit of a challenge!

Then, I had a list (broken up by region) of all of the member countries. The girls’ task was to use the atlases to identify and name WAGGGS countries in the various regions. The trick was, they had to pick a country which was a member, and not repeat one already said by another patrol, and not hesitate for more than five seconds!

Each patrol had 10 markers (in a different colour to the ‘points’ markers) – for every incorrect/repeat/hesitation answer, they lost a marker. The winner would be the last patrol left with markers.

So we started with Africa Region, and the girls pored over the maps, yelling out countries, while I ticked their answers off the list. A fast game is a good game, so we raced through, and when about half the countries in the region had been successfully named, I then read out the other possible correct answers, before we went on to Arab region, Western Hemisphere, Europe, and finally Asia Pacific. For each region, I moved on once we’d ticked off about half – much more fun than insisting on finding *every* WAGGGS country – it would take ages, and would get really boring through repeats. But possibly you could aim for the full list if sticking to one region? The winning patrol was then awarded two markers towards their total.

Round three: WAGGGS membership

This round took an “open book test” approach. Each patrol was given a copy of the WAGGGS membership requirements ( and given two minutes to read it through.

I then sat with my copy, and asked a series of questions – for example “what are joint organisations?” “what do full members need to pay?” “what name rules are there for full members?” etc etc. For each question, the patrols quickly glanced through their sheet, and once they’d located the answer put up their hands – the first correct response then earned a marker! We only did about 6 questions, but it was enough to focus their minds, and I’m sure the first time any of them had even considered that WAGGGS might have membership rules!

Round four: Asia Pacific Region

Our final round was essentially a game of “memory” – the classic “match two cards” game. Patrols took it in turns to attempt to match the cards. The winning patrol was the one with the most pairs at the end.

I’d made up special Asia Pacific Region cards – one half of the pair was the name of the country, the other half was a picture of the guides from that country, which worked really well. Sometimes World Guiding is so remote from our girls, so having pictures of the guides – proper “having fun” photos, rather than drawings of their uniforms or logo or flag, made it all seem a bit more real. Most of the pictures were from the WAGGGS site (, some from their individual organisation websites.

IMG_0234Some of the memory cards

The girls were also super excited when they realised that the photo of “Australia” Guides was a picture of them engaged in an activity from last year 🙂

All in all, it was a huge success, and I’m super thrilled at how it turned out – not something I expected to say when I first turned my mind to meeting the badge criteria!!

Finally, we rounded out the night with 15 minutes as patrols to plan their World Guiding/World Centres activities for next week. The planning actually seemed to go well, so hopefully we’ll end up with a good program of guide-led patrol activities… but I might just have some back up activities *just in case*!

Eagle-eyed readers will realise that I’ve not even mentioned the Juniors yet – I was so engaged with the Seniors that I hardly noticed them (also helped by us splitting the physical space – the Juniors were in the hall, the Seniors were in the foyer area), but they were working on their Eyes badge, making glasses out of pipecleaners and cellophane, and then putting different bits of paper over the glasses ‘lenses’ to simulate different types of vision problems – like cataracts, or retinopathy etc. It seemed to go fairly well, but I suspect it was a bit too intricate for some of the younger ones – we seem to have had a sudden influx of 6 and barely-7 year olds, and I’m not sure we’ve yet adjusted the program to account for their more limited fine motor skills, and smaller attention span.

Speaking of influx, we seem to be suddenly bursting at the seams, to the point that I’m seriously considering if we need to move to a waiting list type situation. Unless we get another leader soon (hi universe, are you listening??), we’re probably going to need a parent roster, and to close the books – if the newbies all sign up (which it looks like they will…) then we’re at 18 in the Seniors/Uppers, and 16 in the Juniors, which I think is the biggest we’ve been in my 6 years with the unit. No doubt now I’ve said that we’ll have a massive drop off after Easter and I’ll be wondering what on earth just happened!

Well, we can only take it “one week at a time” as they say on the football shows, so I guess all there is to do is gear up for patrol-led World Guiding, and ‘Reading Without Seeing’ activities focused on Braille, audiobooks, and other marvellous things!


As ever, the challenge is retaining

Noodling about the ‘back end’ of the blog reminded me of a post from a while ago,

So one year on, how are we going, and has anything changed?

The differentiation between Juniors and Seniors does certainly seem to help – you can definitely tell when a kid is getting too old for Juniors, they seem to be decidedly ratty for a term or two before going up to Seniors, when all of a sudden they calm down again and are just thrilled to be there. Its to the point that I almost wonder if our hardline about not moving up to Seniors until you are 10 is appropriate (Australian Guiding is very flexible on ages, and each unit makes its own decisions about such things), but on the other hand, at least having a clear line means that we are on ‘solid ground’ with the kids in setting the rules. They do tend to respond better to an arbitrary but consistent rule, than a flexible one.

Our utilisation of Patrol leaders and seconders is still not as strong as it should be, and its probably not helping retention of the girls who might be in line for such roles, particularly at the Seniors age group where the stability of the group (and the fact that the girls elect, rather than the leaders appoint) has meant that the number of kids able to access formal leadership roles is limited. Perhaps this will open up a little next year though, as a we will create at least one but possibly two additional seniors patrols to cope with anticipated numbers, and we should also have a couple of the oldest girls looking to move up to Rangers towards the end of the year, which should create some change in the kids holding positions.

We are still struggling to do ‘girl-led guiding’ in a way which is useful, although we are definitely being more “there’s the instructions, now sort yourselves out”, particularly with the Senior Guides. I’ve found myself being less directive in recent months with the older girls, and more willing to let them just go for it, which they seem to appreciate, even as initially they protest that “but you didn’t SAY!” No, indeed, I didn’t, but given you’ve been a Guide for three years, I expect you to figure out you’ll need lots of small wood to keep that fire going…! I have noticed that once they twig onto the fact that the adults are stepping back, that they do manage to fill the gaps themselves, so that will certainly be an area to continue with, especially as a few of our Seniors start getting ready to move up further. Ideally, if numbers can keep relatively steady, but the end of next year we would have a functioning system of girls three years of Juniors, followed by three years of Seniors, before moving up to Rangers at 13ish. But we shall see – in our eagerness to maintain a Rangers group, we shall have to be wary of poaching the oldest Seniors too early, and undermining the concept.

Looking back over our member lists for the year, I’m surprised to see how few we’ve lost to other activities – of course there are some, but nowhere near the numbers recent years have taught me to expect. Not sure if we’re doing something in particular that’s improved retention, or if its just luck. Probably just luck!! Of course, having several girls having been with us for years creates its own challenge, of being sure to not repeat things too often (apart from things that have become Unit Traditions which give a rhythm to the year), and it also has the added complication of nostalgia “ohhh but when we did X badge it was waaaaaaaaaaay more fun”.

Anyway, shortly it will be the long summer break, and we shall see if this year’s excellent retention holds up. My gut feeling is that we’ll lose 2-3 kids over the summer, but at this stage, I’m not taking bets on which ones. Sometimes you just know, sometimes its not clear. This year: Clear As Mud!






A tale of two parts

Guides tonight – both happy and sad.

Firstly, the usual unit had a great night – Juniors were in the kitchen making gingerbread biscuits with awesome co-leader and lovely American helper. And they rose to the challenge of doing a better job than the Seniors did two weeks ago! Unlike the Seniors, the Juniors actually managed to ice and decorate their biscuits, and even had time to have a couple of quick games while the biscuits were baking!

Meanwhile, the Seniors (a reasonably small group) were sewing – and actually were doing a really good job, fabulously engaged. Even our usual noisy ones were reasonably sensible, and they all worked independently on their badges without bothering each other. District leader called in to visit, and was rather charmed by how focused they all were 🙂

We also had five girls back for a second try after last week’s bring-a-friend evening, which was pretty exciting! And mostly Juniors, where we’re a bit thin on numbers, so that is great 🙂

Later though, things were not so great.

Those following this little blog will know that Rangers Leader sent an email two weeks ago resigning. A further email later said she would not be returning for this week’s scheduled Rangers meeting, and that the girls did not know. She promised to send them all an email… but it was very clear this evening that had not happened.

So co-leader and I had to sit down the girls and break the bad news. We were nice enough to at least bring crackers and soft drink to soften the blow! Luckily, they were all pretty calm about it (better than I expected), but were of course pretty worried about what would happen to the group. Apparently they had kind of figured something was up, as former Ranger leader hadn’t done her usual email to them with reminders of what to bring for the evening. Anyway, the girls seemed reasonably okay with the idea that co-leader and I would help out for the rest of term, and they all promised to start asking anyone and everyone they know if they would be interested in being a new leader!

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Uh oh, hazards ahead

Bit of bad news coming to my little unit – our Rangers leader has suddenly announced she is resigning!

Its unclear at this stage exactly when she will finish up – the next Rangers meeting is scheduled for the week after next, and I’m not yet sure if she intends to be there or not. But from what I could gather through email, she certainly won’t be hanging around until the end of term. I suspect if she does come back for their next meeting, then that would be the last.

So, what to do??

The Rangers unit has only been formally registered for about 3 months, after a trial in term four last year and then properly getting started in term one this year. There are nine girls attending regularly -8 ex my unit, 1 ex sister unit- including two girls brought back to guiding after a year away. The girls are also bringing friends along, although no additional members so far.

Given how poor retention in Guides is post-high school, it seems like it would be so awful to have to close a unit full of 14-16 year olds who are all so enthusiastic… but I don’t know what to do. Recruitment of adults is hard enough at the best of times, recruitment of adults in a hurry to a sole leader role (and for teenagers!) is almost impossible!

The logical short term options are either for co-leader or I (or both) to take over the group; put the group into ‘recess’ for a term or so; or merge it with another group in the district.

None of these are great though. For co-leader and/or I, its more work, more time… not to mention, just difficult on a practical level, as the two units have a half-hour overlap at the hall. To put the group into recess so early in its history would, I think, undo a lot of the work done to get it going, and would get the girls out of the habit of guiding, which can be fatal to their engagement.

And I really wouldn’t want to merge with another unit – at least part of the reason for getting the unit going was that other older girl units in the district (and surrounding districts, as we are right on the geographic edge of 3 other districts) are just too far away for parents to travel unless their kid is *super* keen, and as a result it had been many years since any girls from our unit (or sister unit) continued with their guiding post about age 12.

I also wouldn’t want to close or merge the Rangers unit simply on the basis of our Seniors group is growing – they are mostly 10 year olds at the moment, but there is one nearly-13 year old, and three nearly-12 year olds, who are all reasonably new, and pretty enthusiastic. I’d hate for them to not be able to see a ‘pathway’ in Guiding, hate for them not to have a group of girls in years 8, 9, 10 showing that guides isn’t just something you do at primary school at that at grade six they’re already at the upper end of it being okay.

So, dilemmas.

I guess we’ll know more once we hear from resigning leader as to when she’s actually finishing up, and just hope against hope that by some miracle a new leader emerges from the ether who would be super keen to work with teenagers…

Sometimes, growing guiding is damned hard work.


Sew good… and not sew good.

Guides last night was a mix of very peaceful and successful (me and the Juniors sewing) and utter chaos (co-leader and fractious Seniors cooking)!

Lets start with the good…

All 10 Juniors were in attendance, and all but one had managed to bring either their blanket or sash and spare badges for sewing! And the one who had forgotten was totally fine about helping other people, until we found a blanket started last time by girls who had forgotten, which they’d started sewing on various bits to – we’ve decided to make that a unit blanket, and forgetful guide had a lovely time adding to that one!

All the girls were patient, quiet, focused… being helpful towards each other, waiting for assistance from myself and new helper… Just delightful little people!

As an aside, I’ve found a good way of managing competing help requests is to say “Yep, I’ll be there soon, you’re third in line! I’ll just finish helping Sally, then I’ve got Lucy, then I’ll be with you” – seems to help them wait more patiently, without getting agitated that their problem isn’t dealt with immediately.

So, all in all, good sewing night. And one of them even picked up that “it was good we were doing sewing, as it uses your hands, and we’re doing the hands badge this term!”. Indeed kiddo, good pick up!

…And now to the bad!

Well, the biscuits got made! But poor co-leader was just about going spare with the Seniors – one of our older ones ended up in tears as she wasn’t getting her way, two of the quieter ones were being marginalised by the louder ones, they weren’t cooperating in patrols, didn’t listen properly to instructions and then got frustrated when things weren’t working…

I think in many ways, the older girls struggle more with complex tasks than the younger ones do, as they’ve learnt enough that they’re used to being able to figure things out themselves… but they don’t really have the full knowledge to apply. For example, they didn’t know that “creaming the butter and sugar” does not, in fact, result in cream…

It probably also didn’t help that of the two Seniors away, they were both sensible PLs who might have been able to calm things down a little!

It will be interesting to see how the dynamic plays out in two weeks time when we switch the program around, and have the Seniors sewing, and the Juniors cooking… fingers crossed I have delightful sewing Seniors!

Ah well. Problems for another day.

Hopefully next week will be fun – we’re having an open night/bring a friend night, with all the activities based around glow sticks! Hopefully we’ll get a couple of newbies out of it – not that we need many… maybe one or two extra Seniors (preferably around the 11-12 age), and two to four Juniors, preferably aged 6 or 7.

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Trying to build confidence for a shy little one

One of our newer girls is almost painfully shy. She barely speaks above a whisper, when arriving late (which is pretty regular as mum is a bit scatty) is scared to enter the hall in case anyone notices her too much, and she doesn’t seem to know how to break into a game already happening.

For example, following our penny hike this week (which was done in patrols), the various groups got back to the hall at different times. ShyGirl’s patrol was the last to arrive, so a game of secret circle (a pattern-matching game) was already in full swing.

The other girls in her patrol just pushed into the circle, with no worry about breaking in – they know that joining in a game like that mid-way through is no big deal… but ShyGirl stood back, very uncertain, and looking quite stressed by the situation. I suspect its not helping that she’s a homeschooled kid, so not as familiar as the others with dealing with crowds on a regular basis.

She does get properly involved in things when they’re fully explained, and particularly seems to enjoy crafts and quieter activities. But we can’t build a program wholly around quiet activities – our majority boisterous girls would be highly unimpressed!

So I’m not quite sure how to handle the situation. She does seem to have bonded with one of the younger girls in her patrol, and there are at least two quieter, fairly sensible kids in her patrol for her to bond with. She’s certainly not with our super noisy girls!

I’m thinking we might try:
* having a word with mum about trying to get her to Guides on time – no need for her to start the night distressed

* try and make sure we have at least some time each night with quieter activities, particularly at the start (which has the sideline benefit of calming them all down!!)

* perhaps try and do a couple of activities in pairs/threes, and ensure she’s with the younger girl she’s made friends with, and perhaps one of the quieter ones in her patrol – try and build her a little supportive team

* have a word to her PL and an ex-PL in her patrol who are lovely girls, and ask them to try and keep an eye out for her, and make sure they’re really warm and welcoming.

Well, fingers crossed. She’s only been with us a term and a bit, so perhaps we just need to look at this as a long-term project!

Any readers have any hot tips on building the confidence of a shy little one?


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What do we teach?

Earlier this week, a post, by a local blogging guide leader had me pondering. The post  noted that a parent had commented/complained that she wanted her daughter to “learn something”.

This got me thinking – what is it that we aim to teach through Guides?

We’ve had a few girls leave in recent times – a couple just before Christmas, and then two sisters not returning this year. The reason was “oh they have so many things on”. Well, yes, but they’ve chosen to do basketball or netball or music instead of Guides, even though they were enjoying Guides. Why is this? My feeling is that with these other activities, parents can really see the change in the skill level of their daughters. You can see when someone has progressed from chopsticks to Mozart, in a way that our skills don’t really show.

As a leader, I generally feel like a kid is developing in Guides when she grows in confidence, is able to interact with both her patrol and the other girls well, when she’s able to take on a leadership role without fear. And sometimes, for the more outgoing girls, when they’re able to calm down and focus on intricate tasks without complaint.

These are, in many ways, skills of personal development, rather than tangible progress. Helping to grow girls through fun into good people is not a linear process, and I suspect that many parents – particularly ones as achievement oriented as many of ours are – can struggle to see the true value of what we are doing, when compared to being able to boast that their daughter had moved from seconds to firsts in their basketball grading.

I suspect I need to get better at identifying what we teach, and selling it both to the parents and to the girls – coming up with a bite sized way of saying “we will help your daughter grow into a good person” without being preachy. Tricky!


Bowling with the big girls

Tonight was part two of our split bring-a-friend night activities, with tonight’s adventures being bowling and pizza at the local shopping centre.

Five of our seniors and upper seniors (so, about half), and three of sister units’ older girls (again, about half of theirs), and eight friends came along – which is pretty good turn up for a bring a friend activity for older girls! Of course, one of the girls was an ex-Guide (who I understand has joined Scouts now!), so not all are likely prospects. Still, she can’t have any hard feelings towards the unit if she was happy to come along for the evening, so that’s nice at least! Actually, the turn up from our unit was even more impressive given that it wasn’t our usual night, and with how scheduled these kids usually are, I honestly wasn’t sure if any of them would even be available!

The bowling went really well – the majority of the kids wanted the gutter guards up, which surprised me… but I guess then at least you don’t end up with a really boring night of not hitting *anything*. A couple of the girls did pretty well though, with three girls with scores over 100! One game was enough, and took about an hour and a half, once they’d all got their shoes etc etc, which is useful info for the future, as I think when we’ve tried bowling before we’ve tried to squeeze it in with other activities, and there’s no fun in having to rush rush rush – you want time to gossip in between, dance about when you get a strike, ponder the different balls… etc!

Early signs suggest we might have at least two girls interested, who would be in the seniors age group, which would be good… I guess we’ll see! And a possibility of one or two for sister unit as well. In other benefits, our shy senior came out of her shell a bit and seemed to bond with a couple of girls, so that was nice.

A bit of a stressful aside though – sister unit’s leader was meant to be there as well, but when she wasn’t there on time, I didn’t worry too much (she’s known for being a late one!), and as the kids were all there, just got them sorted with bowling, assuming she’d be along shortly. But she never turned up! And didn’t call, or text, or send an email… NOTHING. I’d only seen her the night before and confirmed all arrangements, and we’d been in touch via email earlier in the week with all the details!! NOT HAPPY. But what can you do? With everyone as volunteers, you can’t exactly tell anyone off… but it left me in a stressful position – if anything had happened to one of the kids, I would have had no capacity to handle it properly. I’m really quite irked! With all the communications methods we have these days, not being in touch just isn’t right.


A good night, and hopefully we’ll get some new kids out of it all!

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