NZPETeachercast Episode 11 – Maori achieving educational success as Maori

In the penultimate episode of the NZPETeachercast for 2016, I am extremely privileged to interview an ex student of mine. I taught Troy Ruhe during my time at Wellington High School, where he demonstrated success in everything he put his mind to. But even more impressive than his constant success in the classroom, was his willingness to be a role model for other Māori and Pasifika students throughout the school. He had mana, or an influence about him that had significant influence on many students and teachers that came in contact with him. Troy and I discuss a range of factors relating to his educational success as a Māori student.

With Troy currently in the Cook Islands, I didn’t manage to get an email address for him. But flick me an email if you want to get in touch with him for any reason.

Read Full Transcript

Episode 11- Troy Ruhe
Duration: [00:36:24]
Troy Ruhe: In the curriculum it is ako, to teach and to learn. I think that is something that I don't know how it is now, it's been awhile since I've been out of high school but that was always something that I found, it resonated with me, tuakana–teina that's always been how I came into understanding my relationships with people.
Carl Condliffe: You're listening to the NZ PE Teachercast! A podcast sharing some of the inspirational stories from amazing health and physical education teachers.
Today's episode is sponsored by My Study Series, an online learning platform
by New Zealand PE teachers for New Zealand PE teachers and their students. Check it out now at
Carl Condliffe: As a teacher every six or seven years you come across student who is different, who you know is going to make a difference in this world, essentially the ideal student we hope turns on our class roster each year. Today's guest is one of those students. I remember watching Troy grow and develop throughout year thirteen and thinking to myself I'd love to sit down with this kid and find out what makes him tick because he was pretty exceptional, he doesn't know that I was going to say all this stuff by the way. At that point in time I didn't have a real reason or the platform to do it but I can now, so Troy welcome to the podcast.
Troy Ruhe: Thanks for having me.
Carl Condliffe: So tell us a little bit about yourself, a bit about your educational
background with a particular focus on what you're involved with now.
Troy Ruhe: So I am a Cook Island Maori student and New Zealand Maori student but growing up I think I didn't really understand the difference between the two and also being, well talk about New Zealand European settings and in terms of multicultural New Zealand. I went to, so I started off my education in Pudidor [00:02:28] (?) so quite a low decile school and then moved into Karori where I went to a high decile school and then into Wellington High and did all of my high schooling there. It was there that I just knew PE was going to be for me, I mean I always had an interest in physical activity but then it's just seeing the theory side of things that really kind of drew me in and seeing that there was more than just the physical activity side of it.
So going into now where I am, physical activity was what drove me
through and kind of in my year off, I had a year off before I went into university just to kind of figure out exactly what I wanted to do and understanding that something that is enjoyable to me and physical activity could actually enhance health parameters and all that sort of stuff. So that's where I am now with a particular focus on non-communicable disease and focusing specifically on Maori and Pacific populations. Yeah, so that's where I am now and it's probably where I will be for a very long time.
Carl Condliffe: You mentioned something that was really interesting. You didn't know or you weren't aware of the difference between Cook Island Maori and New Zealand Maori and that's something that's really interesting to me because I'm part Tongan and part Niuean but I know nothing about that side of my family and I have very little contact with that side of my family. I'm a little bit
curious, but I still haven't done anything about that yet. So what kind of drove you to find out a little bit more about that side of your heritage?
Troy Ruhe: Well I grew up, so my mom is, she's strong she grew up in the Cook Islands and my dad he started finding a little bit more about himself as a New Zealand Maori citizen and just finding a little bit more about his whakapapa and also just hearing stories about my mum. So I think that curiosity came from when we got asked questions about who we are and we're from and just saying the place was, that's all I'd say and that was about it but then there were actually people who started questioning it and saying oh yeah so what's it like growing up there or what's it like to be from there and I think that's something that I had never thought about, it was always a superficial thing in terms of ethnicity and that's just what you are, it's a box that you tick.
So I think what drove me to find out a bit more about
that is that I had no idea and I think that's just the way that I am just kind of a mind, I'm very curious about things and just yeah, mind for inquiry I guess and that's been me ever since and I think as I'm growing I know that it's a process and I know that I'm not going to know everything like now and what I do know now will change as I go through more experiences but that's the awesome thing about working with Pacific people and working with Maori people is that I learn more from them about how I can go about, because going about, finding about more about my identity because they've all been through it and they can give me stuff.
Carl Condliffe: You're on a bit of a, you've got a big trip planned later on today, where are you--?
Troy Ruhe: I do, I'm flying out back to Raro, go see my mom and my sister. They've been living over there since I was about twelve now, so that's been a yearly trip but it's been a while since I've back so it's going really good.
Carl Condliffe: So your PhD study, is it your PhD study?
Troy Ruhe: Masters.
Carl Condliffe: Masters, your masters study been about looking into the negative health statistics for Maori and Pasifika peoples. What's the most worrying trend that you're observing through some of the data that you're getting?
Troy Ruhe: So I think the biggest thing is that, so firstly we do know that from the statistics that there is that, the negative side of things and they are over represented in the negative health statistics, but I think when I started doing more research with them it's that, it's kind of a lack of awareness for health so it makes you question what is health to Maori or what is health to Pacific people because in terms of how they are functioning as society they feel that they are healthy.
But I think, so that's that question around that but then there's also there's a lack of awareness for how to go about it and then from there it's to go about making it better and then that lack of education on how to implement it. I know I was doing field research at the start of
this year and they all knew that exercise was really, really good for you but where there was a lack in any understanding of anything was in how to implement or how to go about asking for help. I don't know if it's a pride thing or an economic thing, socio-economic barrier but that's always something where they have the mindset to do it but they just don't know how to go about it and usually one of the big things in terms of a barrier for physical activity is seeing it’s cost and I think that comes, it’s little bit of lack of education there but also just that lack of awareness as health literacy as well. I think Pacific and Maori people are more likely to let things go and won't see anyone about it until it's life threatening almost. So I think that's the most worrying thing is it's not seen as preventative it's more seen as the don't focus on the rehab side that at the end when it's,
they had the worst outcome possible.
Carl Condliffe: That's a shame because our learning area, physical education that's kind of underpinned by Maori well-being and other Pacific health models and health promotion models. So it's a shame that we, in education we draw so much from these models but yet the Maori and Pacific people are still, we're still struggling to get the right information or know what to do or get the help that they need so they can take some of this negative statics and turn it into positive. This year you were Co-Tumuaki of Te Roopu Whakakaha Tinana which is the physical education Maori association. So the objective of that association is to encourage academic excellence of Maori physical education students which is pretty cool. What have you enjoyed most about that roll?
Troy Ruhe: I think the two things I've enjoyed most about it has been my personal development,
I started off the first year rep my first year down there and then just slowly worked my way up the rolls into the presidency roll. So seeing that it was possible that you can go kind of like the small fish and then just learning from everyone and then taking it to that next level.
So there's that but also just I think the relationships that was something that I'd probably cherish forever is that I was learning the whole time in this and the older students but also the new people coming through, so there's that cycle of you coming in from the younger age and then getting older but you're always being pushed from the people under you but you're also learning from the people above you, that was, I think that was the most rewarding thing and just knowing that you are there to help people whether they say it or not it's always nice to have that sort of support there for you.
I think the most challenging thing for me, definitely was that we were, physical education Maori association
and we were seen as we are only there for Maori people and when it came to events and what not because we did have, like I guess you called them the mainstream executive when spins [00:10:11] (?) down there and I was kind of saying that we would only do things for Maori students and then they would cover everyone else. So where do Maori fit in it? Is this a binary thing? Can they not go to the mainstream things? I think not, they wouldn't come to a lot of our events because of that fear of being singled out.
I think there's quite a bit of a stigma around having just a focus on Maori students because it looks like oh they're getting special treatment and that's, I think that was the biggest challenge for me just to say that we aren't, I mean we do, we have Maori in our title but we just develop, or we use, we implement a Maori way of thinking as opposed to being only for Maori students. That was the biggest challenge was trying to get that out of this, there's just the massive challenge
between, yeah, that's it just that challenge of doing the mainstream and--
Carl Condliffe: So is that like, do you feel like that's a little bit of prejudice or even racism coming through? What do you think the attitude there is or that, just misunderstanding over it.
Troy Ruhe: That's exactly it, I think it just a misunderstanding where you feel like you have to go into one or the other where it's not like that at all, we say in New Zealand that we are a multicultural society so we should be able to accept both and be able to walk this world and both worlds. So I think that is what that is, but also being Maori and having non-Maori friends, when you're trying to make friends, especially in that first year if you are pulled away to something that is from the Maori association you don't want to make it look like you're getting extra from what everyone else is getting, I guess it's, yeah, it's interesting.
Carl Condliffe: I'm quite interested in your experiences at secondary school because the majority of our listeners are secondary PE teachers so I'm positive they can hear about what drove you to succeed as well. But the first thing I noticed about you at Wellington High School and this was, I think I taught you in year ten and year thirteen was that you were such a role model for other Maori students, what made you willing to embrace this roll because I think at secondary school I think it's really difficult to be a role model, a positive role model because there's so many influences and there's so many distractions and there's so many negative things that you can fall into. So what kind of drove you or made you embrace that roll of being a role model
Troy Ruhe: That role model, I think you say in terms of leadership and whatnot, there's two ways you can think about it. There's being that dictator type or being that person
who just kind leads from behind and I think that's where I always was, like I didn't strive to be a leader and I didn't want to be put up there, so I think in terms of embracing it, it was that I was channeled, people just, teachers and what not, they acknowledge that I was, I did have those leadership qualities and then started putting me in those roles.
But I think what made me embrace that most is that I am the oldest sibling in my family and knowing that what I do will trickle down and hopefully if they see what I'm doing, just kind of being a role model for them and then hearing that I did something because of you, it's a really rewarding feeling and being put, I guess a little bit of people looking out for you is just, it gives you that sense of accountability as opposed to giving you pressure to be able to be the best that you can be.
I think that's what, that's difficult yes to find with all those distractions and what not but if you are singled out earlier and you had that sense of accountability, you have responsibility to a lot of people and I find that's what kind of mitigates those distractions is you know you are out there but it's finding that fine line between giving someone too much responsibility and then rebelling or them taking it on, so I guess in terms of embracing it would just be that I was, I was given the freedom to be able to be a role model the way that I wanted to be.
Carl Condliffe: I like that word, accountability that you used and the one about the things that are still quite vivid in mind is I think we were outside the pavilion, we had those bleachers, that one little bleacher and it was sport science, sport studies I think it was called and I was trying to get the class under control and we were doing a warm up or something and I
was losing the class and you had turned and said to a group of boys, you're like come on this isn't how we roll basically and they were like instead of going on and giving you shit about it they just went oh sweet okay well let's, Troy said we should do this we're going to listen. That just kind of blew my mind because up until that point of time I probably hadn't seen a Maori or Pasifika student really take on that leadership with the classroom. I was seeing a lot of leadership from performance point of view, being able to demonstrate performance, exceptional performance on the sports field, but to see somebody come in and do it from a point of view where they were trying to be responsible and accountable for the actions of the entire class, not just yourself was awesome.
I kind of, you hear every
now and then that the, I'm not sure if I mentioned this earlier on another podcast around the differences between Canterbury Rugby Union and Auckland Rugby Union where the Polynesian athletes are on positions, rugby positions where it's all about performance and they're not in a decision making positions and it's all about those assumptions around Maori and Pasifika students that we try to avoid but that's still there. So accountability and responsibility, it's, those are two really important things to consider.
Troy Ruhe: Just on that when you were talking about kind of the position stacking a little bit, I think in terms of being a role model, like now upon reflection I am so glad that this is a thing and that we are trying to channel more Maori and Pacific students as role models but within kind of overall positions as opposed to just on the sports field because that is a lot of our role
models. A lot of the people that we see that we can kind of identify with as seeing similar backgrounds and whatnot they are musicians and sport stars and I think we have so many people doing so well, so many Maori/Pacific people doing well in academic settings, it's just that the light has never really shown on them and I think that's why the people you use see most growing up and the people that you see that you can identify with, that is when you start being channeled.
So like everyone, I just feel that we are channeled the way that we are, like the experiences that we have are going to inform our decisions for the future, so I think definitely being a role model I think if I was to go back and know what I know now in terms of being able to embrace it more, like that's my only regret is I would have done, pushed it a bit more. But that's where I am now.
Carl Condliffe: I think you pushed it pretty hard and in end of 2011 you were awarded the Welly High peace prize which
being a teacher at Wellington High School at the time, we considered it to be pretty much the supreme award in the school. So how did it feel being awarded that and why do you think you were recognized with that award, just kind of leading on from your role modeling and leadership.
Troy Ruhe: Right, yeah that was actually, it was quite unreal and I just remember how Prue does it as well, she would say your name and then--
Carl Condliffe: Prue fantastic, I love Prue.
Troy Ruhe:-- and then get you up on the stage and actually just start rambling all these facts you're like you know I don't like to hear that sort of stuff and I don't like to be put up on the stage and everyone looking at you and then reading these things out but I think the big thing that did come out from all of that was it was all the groups that I was involved with and all the people that she said I had inspired and kind of the aspirations that a lot of people had for me at the time, so it's kind that, receiving that award I think was really testament to the relationships
that I had developed over my time at school because that award is not ducks and it's not the sportsperson of the year, it's kind of that overall role. So that was that being channeled as a role model for everything in terms of academia, kind of even drama and performance as well as on sports field.
But from that, it is those relationships that kind of helped me become that overall person, so the positives, the negatives that I had gone through before that and like learning to be able to modify my behavior to be able to become the overall, the best person overall that I could be and that comes from that holistic view of health and that comes with that holistic way of being. So I think that's testament, I think even if you look at the people who got it before me, they were Maori and Pacific people and that's because they have that holistic view of the world and we're not just focused
on one particular aspect, yeah.
Carl Condliffe: I think you're right. We know from the data that Maori achievement rates are lower than the national average, Maori students are leaving school earlier and have less qualifications than their non-Maori counterparts. Well what do you think is one thing a teacher could do right now that could begin to help address this?
Troy Ruhe: Right, so with this, I debate I think it is ako, to teach and to learn. I think that is something that I don't know how it is now, it's been awhile since I've been out of high school but that was always something that I found, it resonated with me, tuakana–teina that's always been how I came into understanding my relationships with people is that sure if I am the expert in one field I can teach you stuff, but from how you react to that I need to be able to modify what I do, so I'm learning from you, it's indirect but it is that sort of learning and I think that's where
a teacher could maybe make a difference, I know people do it as well but it's just making it explicit now that whatever your, so every student is going to be different, that's the kind of saying that there is no one size fits all, but when you are delivering something if something is working for a majority of the class and then there's a group of people and usually it is the Maori and Pacific people it is not, it's just not thinking, like we were talking earlier about that deficit thinking and coming from a strength based approach.
So kind of providing context for them as a student. I know there's a lot of times where you're sitting there thinking when am I ever going to use this in the real world and that's being able to find something within their world, so maybe getting to know them and that's that learning that you're going to get from them and then that's being able to see okay for them this is how this can be applied and it sounds like it's extra work to do but if you are a teacher you are catering to everyone within that classroom. Everyone who sits down becomes
your responsibility and but then at the same time I think the students need to understand that they have a responsibility to their teacher and I think is going to cover one of the later questions, but there is that relationship.
It's being able to establish that rapport with the students and then being able to see okay if there is an issue with the student in that class look at your approach. A + B doesn't always equal C. There's something in the mix of the A or the B where there's a breakdown and I think that's what teachers can do. It's like, I put, just reflect on everything that's happening.
Carl Condliffe: I like the idea of providing context for Maori and Pasifika student from their culture, but I think it's a real challenge there because we try to
differentiate a lesson or a unit and provide context and we try to meet the needs of every student in the class. But I guess from my personal experience when you attempt to meet the needs of every student you, need to say that I know very little about Maori and Pasifika culture and I'm going to find it much harder to provide good context. So then I might by default not choose to go there and I might try to provide other areas to differentiate but that's, we need to get away from, we need to put ourselves out there and take risk, I think that is taking risk to try and learn something that you might not be, have a good understanding a be aware of and try to implement that. So I think that's some really good advice and some really wise words from someone who is still fairly young and still kind of finding their way in the world. So that was a good answer.
Alright, this kind of flows on and you might have
addressed some of it already in that last question, but thinking back to your time in the classroom and even now in tertiary education what sticks out for you in terms of good teaching, so what are some approaches I guess that teachers have taken that resonated well with you and made you want to be successful?
Troy Ruhe: Definitely just the teachers that made me feel like I mattered. That was probably the biggest thing, because once you start feeling like someone has respect for you I don't know if this goes for everyone, if this is a generalization, but once you know you have someone's respect it's really kind of, that's your responsibility to them once again. So I think the people who actually took an interest in me and also just kind validated the way that I thought and validated the way that I went about things, they were the ones that kind of promoted my thinking and kind of encouraged me to carry on learning because I knew that I could
do it in a way suited me while fitting within the guidelines of your academic, your, the guidelines of your achievement standards and whatnot--
Carl Condliffe: Curriculum.
Troy Ruhe: Yeah, exactly. I don't want to make you all blushy here, but you and Miss Johnson, Miss Johnson you two, so that's probably why I'm in PE at the moment is that you two were the ones who did that for me and also seeing, being able to identify with that teacher as well as you're quite a competitive person then you're one of those people who became a perfectionist I think in my last year I changed a lot of the way that I did things so that I could, I wasn't just satisfied with just passing in anything and it's just that I just keep pushing and pushing myself in all the different fields that I was in actually, it's just kind of carrying that mentality for excellence. So yeah, I think that
it is a process where you have to make that, establish that relationship first because I think if you miss that first step everything else past that is not really going to, yeah.
Carl Condliffe: That's the next question because at the core of teaching what underpins everything we do is relationships and you've been in thick of it. So I guess from your experience how could a teacher best emphasize relationships and whanaungatanga with their students, so what's, how can we encourage that?
Troy Ruhe: Yeah, so just with that I think it's identifying or acknowledging really that within everyone you can be of the same, so say you had a class and everyone was the same ethnicity, not everyone's going to have the same values though, everyone's going to have a different world view, everyone's going to have a different background and identify differently with different things and interpret the world in different ways. So I think with that, that's not
the issue.
The issue is just being able to find kind of like a negotiation space between you and your values so if there was like a Venn diagram it would be you and then within that is your identify, your background, just everything that makes you you and then the person that you're dealing with and all of them the same, so there will be a crossover where that's what you can negotiate, that's where okay these things of me, I don't like to use the word compromise but that's just it, finding that middle ground and I think that's the difficult thing with classrooms though is that's just you and one other person but you usually have up to what fifteen to make of around thirty to be able to do that with.
Carl Condliffe: Thirty-three sometimes.
Troy Ruhe: Thirty-three sometimes, yeah see exactly and that's another three that you have to do that with but that's the thing is you are, you're spending a year with these people and I think just getting in early and showing that you are open minded and showing that you can kind of validate someone's
thinking and when they come into that classroom they know that they are stepping into a safe environment to be able to not only learn the content but I think a lot of it is self-discovery as well and that them growing and them being able to explore a little bit about how they go about things, I'd say that's probably why I am the way that I am, I was able to explore a lot of who I was and as you'll probably go into, quite a, Wellington High, a school that does let, they accept diversity and that sort of stuff, so I kind of dressed like everyone else but in terms of how my mind could about things that that's relationship there is that I was given that space to be able to do that.
Carl Condliffe: This is a little bit a sidetrack but you mentioned that self-discovery and one thing I've been wanting to try for years but just the situation or the context hasn't allowed for it but next year I've got a small level three
class and what I'm intending to do at this point in time is have one period a week that I'm not going to link to any achievement standard, I'm not going to provide any content and it's just going to be self-guided learning/discovery, passion projects. They can link to their scholarship report if they want to but I just want people to learn about something they're passionate about and just explore the world because we get so burdened down by assessment and we dictate so much of what our students need to learn or what we think they should learn when our curriculum is only a very small, small, small fraction of what we think our students should learn and there's so much more interesting and fun things to be learning.
So I'm going to try to do that, I don't know how it will work or whether, I'll hope I'll get by but whether it's manageable with how many credits we need to give, but I think you're right being able to discover
how you learn or what you want to learn and things like that is cool.
But the relationships are really important and I think you touched on some really good points. You had a Facebook post recently that pictures you in front of the Otago Union building with a colleague of yours and the statement one step closer to taking our place in the world. I thought that was really cool. So what is your place in the world or your vision of your place in the world look like at this point in time and what's the next, what's going to be the next step of your journey?
Troy Ruhe: Yeah so that was, I got that Friday when I'd just had my honor's dissertation printed so at that time I was feeling like oh on top of the world but then when we ask what my world was, I think it's my place in the world at any point in time would be a place where I know that I can affect change, whether that just be in the way that someone goes about how they, like their day or being able to actually save someone's life
by implanting that exercise program and all that sort of stuff. So I think my, yeah, so my place in the world would just be creating environments for people to be able to kind of flourish and I think that's testament to what happened to me growing up is recognized that I had potential and that that flame or that spark kind of turned into a flame and I think that's what I want to be able to do is I want to be able to find that spark within different people and then that's providing the context and then providing that environment to allow it turn into a flame.
So that's, I don't mind where I do that, I don't mind who I do that with, it's just I know, seeing people flourish I think is that, that's kind of the most rewarding thing to me whether you get money from it or not, it's alright because they, you have helped on other person then if that sparks something within them they could help another person and it just keeps
going on that cyclic effect and I think from here where I want to go with that is just being able to, I guess that's the sad thing is that you have to apply theory to everything and you maybe have to have like a couple letters by your name to be kind of seen as an authentic figure, to be able to do that sort of thing.
Carl Condliffe: To be an authority.
Troy Ruhe: Exactly, yeah, to be able to do that sort of thing. So my journey is to be able to be in a position where I am seen as someone that you'd like to listen to, but also in that time being able to just discover more and more about how we can create those environments and I have no idea on how to do that just yet but that's what I say, it's a discovery process.
Carl Condliffe: I think that's the best thing about my job is we do see students kind of lighting their flames
and having those lightbulb moments and seeing students change from when they come into our care and then seeing how they end up at year thirteen and like now seeing where you're at, 2011 that's five years on. So that is one of the coolest things and I think you would have made a fantastic teacher, I know you originally you thought that maybe that was something you were going to do but I think you've slightly moved away from that path which is a good thing because I think you could achieve so much more than being a teacher. Although, teaching is good.
Troy Ruhe: It good be one of my careers I'm not too sure, could come back to it later yeah.
Carl Condliffe: You never know. Final question here, I didn't put this one on the thing, it's just a bit of a more informal one but when are you going to quit slacking and get on the stage to compete because you've been lifting heavy for a while now and you've got the physique so what's going on?
Troy Ruhe: I don't know, just have to find a time that works with my schedule
and my studies and whatnot, just be able to sleep properly and I don't know that's not even an excuse next couple of years maybe.
Carl Condliffe: You should give it a go like the motivation and the discipline that you need to do something like that because I've only done the one competition but man it really, you can transfer a lot of that skill into other aspects of your life, so you should. I think you should definitely do it and I can't wait to see.
But hey at the start of the podcast I said a couple of things and one of those things about really wanting to sit down with you and just hear a little bit more about what makes you tick and I wasn't saying that just to make a point, that was something that I said it to a few teachers at that point in time that one day I really wanted to do this and I think some of the answers you've provided throughout have been really good and are much richer than I thought they might have been and I'm
really thankful that you were able to come and have a chat and just pass on some of your wisdom and your knowledge. You know you advocate for Maori and Pasifika peoples really, really well and you're doing some great work. I just want to encourage you to keep doing that because we need more people like you who want to see people succeed and want to see people have those lightbulb moments and light their candles and see success. So big ups to you.
Troy Ruhe: Why thank you.
Carl Condliffe: Keep it up and man I'm jealous that you're off to the Cook Islands.
Troy Ruhe: Just on that, thanks for having me and I just, I jumped at the opportunity when you did ask me to be able to do this is because like I said the role models that are out there are only pictured in sporting excellence, music excellent, musical, or all those sorts of talents and kind of away from the classroom and just it was nice being acknowledged as someone that you'd like to talk to but also
if this does give some sort of guidance to anyone out there that's, like I said, that's what I'm about and just being able to provide anything that I can when I can and yeah, so thank you so much for having me.
Carl Condliffe: I'll make sure I put your contact details, maybe an email or something in the show notes and people can get in touch if they have any more questions.
Troy Ruhe: Alrighty.
Carl Condliffe: Cheers Tory.
Troy Ruhe: Alright, thanks.



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Carl Condliffe is a Health and PE teacher passionate about using technology to create authentic and meaningful learning experiences for his students.

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