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Somalia: Internship In the Famine Stricken Region

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Furqan Naeem recently completed his summer internship with Human Appeal International.  He got the opportunity to travel to Somalia to witness the devastation first-hand and to implement some projects to benefit the people of the famine.  The following is a personal account of his experiences whilst out in Somalia.

Last week I returned from a humanitarian trip with Human Appeal International from the famine stricken area of Mogadishu in Somalia. It was certainly an experience I’ll never forget. It was a week of witnessing things from a different perspective, a week reflecting on how fortunate we are to have those simple things we take for granted and it was a week of learning to always give more than you receive.

My first impression of Somalia was one of a broken world, one of no order where chaos prevails above all other things.  I spent a day in Nairobi the day before visiting orphanages.  I thought I’d use my time in Nairobi to gain an understanding of what life in East Africa was actually like.  I thought this would equip me to cope with the devastation that I was to experience in Somalia.

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Arriving in Mogadishu, the next day, felt like I had entered a different world.  It was surreal.  The airport seemed like a shelter home and the tight security all round made me feel very nervous.  Even as we were at the entry office one of the questions on the visa form was “what weapons have you brought with you?”. Reading that question made me realise that this was a place not for the faint hearted.  As we headed to our secure residence for the week, I saw that there wasn’t a single built-structure that was not crumbling.  It felt like we were in a warzone and this was before we went to visit any of the famine victims.

The next few days were spent visiting refugee camps and a local hospital so we could identify the areas on the ground where aid was still not reaching. Visiting the refugee camps and hospital was the point in the trip where you actually got to see first-hand how the famine had devastated so many families.  As we went visiting from tent to tent with our local team there, we were able to communicate with some of the families.  Real families, real people who all had a common story.  They had all walked for weeks to get to the refugee camp in the hope that aid would be there but found nothing but more desperate people and families.

I heard how incredibly difficult life could be for these people.  I remember meeting a young mother who only 3 weeks back gave birth to a young baby boy but she was barely able to look after herself because of her weakness and the young baby was in a critical state.  It could easily be the case that these two human beings are no more, but this was the case all across refugee camps in Mogadishu, just to give a glimpse of the scale of disaster.

297888 10150304506314751 175608624750 8044148 177523286 n Inside Mogadishu – A World Apart

After visiting three refugee camps around Mogadishu and witnessing first hand what it was like for the poor and needy we had a chance to visit one of the local hospitals to see what sort of assistance doctors were trying to provide.  Unfortunately the scenes were not much different at the hospital.  As soon as we arrived we immediately saw a young boy getting treated outside the hospital for lack of clean water as there was insufficient space inside.  There were so many victims all in distress with their families but the sad thing was to see so few doctors on hand who were being stretched in the first place. Most of the hospital was filled with young babies suffering from waterborne diseases, which have little or no cure.

After identifying the areas where aid was not being reached, we set about initiating food distribution points, mobile medical clinics and water distribution to the camps. This was perhaps the most satisfying part of the trip – to help all those that you saw on the ground providing them with food packages that would help their families for a month at a time.

But the sad reality was that we were only just scratching the surface in terms of the amount of people that were suffering and still needed help.  I witnessed the bittersweet reactions in the faces of the families who at first were relieved to see aid coming in the form of food and water but then realising that this might be the only help they’ll receive in months. Even with the mobile medical clinic I saw how families valued getting the right treatment and medicine to help with all the illnesses. They queued for miles just to see a doctor in the hope that their illness might be cured.

In a country where there is so much despair and misery we managed to visit the University of Mogadishu, which surely is a beacon of hope in times of uncertainty for the Somalian people.  There are two sides to Somalia and the reason why it is in so much ruin.  One side is the recent famine, which has affected much of Somalia but the other side is the total lack of infrastructure and leadership from those in control of the country.  The two have combined in a devastating way and now a time of misery has fallen upon the people of smiles. But for the country to prosper in years to come and for the people to live a better a life,  Somalia has to produce effective citizenry; and education is the key in building the country’s next generation of leaders.  The university has a massive role to play in the shaping of the country by producing well-grounded students who will go on to help provide that infrastructure and help build a country where peace can be achieved sooner rather than later.

310942 10150300957774751 175608624750 8027590 268633558 n Inside Mogadishu – A World Apart

Whilst out on the trip with Human Appeal International I managed to spend some time with Dr. Hani El Banna, the founder of Islamic Relief, who was busy organising a conference bringing together Muslim charities and local NGOs to help improve the situation in Somalia through his role as chairman of Muslim Charities Forum.  Dr. Hani has always been an inspiration to me and so getting the opportunity to work with him was a real honour, not to mention a huge learning curve.  The best part was seeing him in his element when he is with the children.  I remember when we finished Friday prayers and he started to make animal noises to communicate with the children.  They smiled and replied back with the same animal noises.  In a matter of seconds there were hundreds of young children around this great man as he built that special connection with the forgotten children of Somalia.

All in all it was truly an experience of a lifetime.  Having reflected for a week since I’ve been back, the memories of the faces of desperation I saw still live within me.  One thing I have learnt is to be grateful for what I have in life and to never complain if something doesn’t quite go my way.  There are people living in so much more difficulty than me – how do I have a right to complain?  I will never forget the stories; the mother who lost her children walking to the refugee camps, the father who had to sacrifice some of his children in order to provide for a few.  And what about the rain prayer where I was blessed to be part of a gathering where over 10,000 people came together to pray for rain and the next morning through God’s mercy rain descended upon the people of Mogadishu.  These memories shall stay with me for as long as I shall live and will continue to inspire me for years to come.  As I reflect back I still see the desperate faces and I wonder about their plight and the constant hardship they experience.  I do have hope though.  Yes the task is enormous, yes we still have a lot of work to do here in the UK, but I firmly believe that if we all play our part, make enough effort through our donations and prayers, then prosperity and peace will eventually come to the people of Somalia.

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25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Halima

    November 25, 2011 at 1:46 AM

    Sad as a Somali to see how the country is in ruins…to be frank most of the Muslim world is corrupt…but yes Somalia is at it’s worst. I hope for one day peace and prosperity. At the time the country is in the hands of wicked power hungry men-transitional gov…Al Shabab..don’t care for the labels…they’re all the same…power hungry men who look only for their own gain and name…while the country is crumbling to it’s death. Sad.

  2. Aisha

    November 25, 2011 at 2:50 AM

    Asalaam Wa alaikum,
    This really touched me in more ways than I can explain. But what hurt the most is the fact that; that could have been my fate if Allah swt hadn’t blessed me with a comfortable life. Al hamdullah for what I am blessed with and Istagfurallah for all the times I complained of being broke just because I wanted to satisfy my cravings, when I had PLENTY of food at home. May Allah swt help my brothers, sisters, aunt’s, uncle, mother’s and fathers in Somalia. My home. May he shine a light where there is darkness, warm those cold hearts and limit the chaos. Ameen. I use to believe “oh this whole Qabil thing will end soon, there’s a new GENERATION.” but boy was I blind, the hatred a lot of Somali brothers and sisters have for one another because of qabil is just sad. Only Allah and dua can SAVE Somalia. Long Live Somali. :)

    • Sister

      November 26, 2011 at 10:31 AM

      The QABIL issue is devastating. DEVASTATING!!!!!!! It is a disease in the somali community subhan Allah. Unless somalis or Muslims in general change themselves, we are going to continue to suffer because of our own actions. It is because of us that we are going through these problems. May Allah help us be on the right path. May Allah save the whole Ummah. We are an Ummah

    • Hannah

      November 26, 2011 at 8:22 PM

      Ameen! I also thought that the qabil issue would end with the new generation. Personally, my parents went to pains to not teach me and my siblings to value or place any significance on qabil. Now that we are older we know about it of course, but Alhamdulillah, it does not matter at all to us. Naively, I thought all Somali parents raised their children in this way but that is sadly not the case. I see many people from our “new generation” who care about qabil just as much as their parents do, and I see the way it affects the way they act towards others. I agree with you, only dua can save Somalia, as all blessings and success come only through Allah SWT. In addition, Somalia needs the combined efforts of not only Somalis but all compassionate human beings to restore peace and help out the needy in Somalia.

    • Mustafa

      November 26, 2011 at 10:27 PM

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      I noticed a habit among us is that we confess our sins in public. Don’t. Allah concealed it so keep quiet. We aren’t supposed to in Islam. We repent to Allah, not people around us.

      • Jock

        November 27, 2011 at 3:13 AM

        Aren’t you the same Mustafa, who’s constantly pestering people to not discuss free will and its nature? If a slightly meaningful and honest conversation is so anathema to you and your feeble mind then find a group of similarly intellectually-bankrupt individuals to hang around. Don’t keep trying to shut people up. Nobody needs to ‘repent’ for having an honest conversation to you or anybody else.

        You remind me of this idiotic Pakistani militant leader who forbade any critical questions about the various militant activities he’d been linked to because he felt that ‘discussing the past is haram’ lol

      • Sister

        November 27, 2011 at 7:50 AM

        This is a devastation that is causing a lot of harm in all communities akhi and needs awareness. What you are speaking about in not exposing one’s sins is correct. This is a public issue since it has not been concealed by the communities. This is a situation in the ummah that I am sure has been addressed in certain khutba or lectures are are widely available to anyone with access to internet. How do we solve this issue if we do not even want to speak about it? Perhaps u mean, do not expose this to the outside community

  3. Umm Sulaim

    November 25, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    Just yesterday Somalia spontaneously came into my mind.

    What are Somalis in the diaspora doing for their country besides pointing fingers? One problem is people expect everything to start from the government, while they live comfortably in other countries.

    If foreigners can go into Somalia to assist the situation, Somalis need to play their part. Assistance need not be capital intensive. Instead of spending their vacations in cosy resorts, they could contribute just three weeks of their time in their own country teaching children, for instance.

    These children could be fed once a day during class hours with the most basic food to boost their health. This costs little to nothing but the effect is enormous: the integrity of the future generation is assured, and it will provide much needed source of pleasure to children.

    Umm Sulaim

    • Safia Farole

      November 26, 2011 at 12:30 AM

      Sister, what gives you the impression that Somali’s in the diaspora are not doing as much as they can for their country? As a Somali American, I’ve heard of many cases where Somali’s living in the diaspora go back home to help out. Check out this example:

      http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2011/11/20111114103920169430.html

      I can say that an overwhelming number of Somali’s give money to back home relatives frequently. Change takes time to occur, and there are sometimes major factors (such as famine, drought, global warming phenomenon exc.) that complicate the situation further. And remember that the majority of Somali’s have only been in the diaspora for about 20 years (tops), so they haven’t even fully established their roots in the west. Unlike other long established Muslims (such as Arabs, Pakistanis, exc.) who have been living in the west for decades, diasporic Somali’s have still to climb the economic ladder in these countries (I would say most are the working poor). So, lets take things into perspective, and understand that change takes time.

      • Umm Sulaim

        November 26, 2011 at 12:54 AM

        I hope you read my comment as I did not accuse Somalis of not doing as much as they can.

        Twenty years is long enough to be able to do more. I’m aware of other Africans who do all sorts of low paid work in Europe and the US, even holding two or more jobs to help their people back home.

        Moreover, the case of Somalia is the most acute and longest crisis in Africa which will not wait for decades for Somalis in the diaspora to establish themselves.

        If change takes any more longer to occur, there will be a further decimation of the population.

        Umm Sulaim

        • Ms Mohamud

          November 26, 2011 at 1:34 PM

          Not to be rude but
          Maybe you shouldn’t comment on something you don’t know too much about.

          Salaams

          • Umm Sulaim

            November 26, 2011 at 11:41 PM

            You are highly welcomed to be rude. I have an effective way of dealing with ill-trained persons.

            The disaster in Somalia is no secret nor are its causes. Now we know that some Somalis are also trained to be ill-mannered to persons of far-removed identities and tribe. I do wonder how you treat one of your country people.

            Feel free to intimate us with some of your qabil training by displaying your filthy manners which is your sole contribution to the discussion.

            Umm Sulaim

        • Leyla

          November 27, 2011 at 2:58 PM

          Umm Sulaim,

          I am extremely disappointed by what you’ve just said about the hard working Somali people you know nothing about. Implying they don’t work as hard as ‘other Africans’? I don’t know what makes you think you have the right to say that.

          A lot of Somali people aren’t the richest of people. They work hard to provide for their families here AND the ones back in Somalia. And most of them have a LOT of family back in Somalia/Africa. Some months they have to choose which ones to send money to.

          Does that sound to you like people who ‘expect everything to start from the government, while they live comfortably in other countries.’?

          I don’t know who you are talking about, but you are wrong about a LOT of Somali people and it is very unfair of you to speak of them like that, and then even try to make it seem like you haven’t said anything bad at all..

          I hope you can think over what you have said, and I agree with Ms Mohamud – please don’t comment like that when you clearly don’t know much about it.

          • Umm Sulaim

            November 27, 2011 at 11:35 PM

            And you know so much about TWO DECADES of tragedy, yet you fail to understand the context of ONE PAGE on a website. Rather, your last comment applies to you, so DO NOT COMMENT LEST YOU HURT YOURSELF AND CREATE ANOTHER HUMANITARIAN CRISIS.

            I really don’t have time to keep responding to emotional comments.

            Besides being too sentimental, can the commenters on this site tell us what THEY as Somalis are doing about the situation? I do not mean links to what other Somalis have done/ are doing nor do I mean fantastic expectations from governments.

            Umm Sulaim

          • Umm Sulaim

            November 28, 2011 at 5:06 AM

            Three categories of Somalis in the US, including the 40000 Somalis in Minnesota alone, according to someone WHO IS FAMILIAR WITH THE SITUATION. Those who:

            1) have actively taken that chances offered in the US.

            2) are poorly educated, unskilled workers. Yet there are many who fill the sorts of jobs that most native-born Americans will not take … They work on assembly lines, meat factories, and the rest are cab drivers; all except a few who went to school here in the US and now have good educational skills, and …have adjusted to their life here in America VERY WELL and they have CREATED THEIR OWN SMALL BUSINESSES, grocery shops, restaurants, and now they send money back to their families abroad.

            3) have given up, and ARE NOT DOING ANYTHING AT ALL, except sitting in the cafeteria sipping a coffee or Somali tea and thinking that they are still in Somalia, asking questions about back home that they think that they care about the country, but they are marginalized and have lost the opportunity here.
            http://www.hiiraan.com/op2/2010/jan/my_reflections_on_somali_migration_to_the_us.aspx

            (Note: the capitalizations were mine.)

            First, this answers the question of what Somalis are doing. They need to do more. It is time for the 20-year crisis to move towards an end.

            Secondly, Somalis are already established, at least those who want to be.

            Finally, if I receive any more unconstructive remarks, I shall do more research on Somalis in Europe and Canada.

            Umm Sulaim

          • Sister

            November 29, 2011 at 3:10 AM

            Okhti Umm Sulam. This discussion would not have been like this had you not said such remarks, ”

            What are Somalis in the diaspora doing for their country besides pointing fingers?One problem is people expect everything to start from the government, while they live comfortably in other countries.

            “Instead of spending their vacations in cosy resorts”

            And you did advise on what solution can be done by those who are capable of providing assistance to the needy children.

            One of the sisters responded to you because she felt based on your comment how it was unfair that you put all somalis in such a category of not doing anything.

            Then you responded and clarified your statement but with a remark that was distasteful implying again that all somalis do not help their people back home and the rest of the other africans do and they work and send help back home but not somalis. Perhaps this was not your intention, but this is how the words do come out.

            This caused someone to comment and in a way that she tried not to be rude but was rude to ask you not to comment. Then you responded and quite frankly rudely as well.

            Which caused the sister to respond to your previous statements that again she and some people who read some of your comments will take it the wrong way because it clearly is implying that they are doing nothing which is not true.

            But I will agree that to ask the sister to not comment is not fair to her as this issue is also her concern and she has tried to contribute to what people can do to assist the people in somalia. She has raised a good point about some sitting at the cafeteria drinking qahwa/ shai and hanging out at start bucks for some, but this is the 0.01%. And those who work and contribute are more in number. She has stated some truth to some extent. The issue is deeper than this

            This issue has gone on for so long, truly:

            “…Verily! Allâh will not change the (good) condition of a people as long as they do not change their state (of goodness) themselves (by committing sins and by being ungrateful and disobedient to Allâh)…” Ar-ra’ad (13): 11

            Allah azza wa jal is All-Wise and All-Knowing and Most Merciful and this calamity has afflicted this area. Truly Allah tests mankind and we are being tested by what is going on in the Ummah and ourselves. Muslims need to refer back to the Qur’an and Sunnah because the solution is there.

            What are the problems affecting us? Identify the problem first, then the solution. We know our problems in the community. What are the solutions?

            Al insan can collect as much money as they want and many hands can try to offer help as much as they can, but the situation has not changed. The help runs out in a few months, and sooner or later the world will forget unless certain governments with interests will raise awareness with the issue again like they did because they have some agenda in these lands. ummmm the other years, they didn’t matter? Truly Allah is All-Knowing of the plots of the plotters. The issue is deep and to even comment about it is controversial these days. And so many continue to talk and talk and no action (speaking in terms of our ummah – palestine, hijaz region, sham, africa any makan that muslims are majority or just muslims everywhere).

            May Allah help this Ummah in the righteous path. We need guidance and I wish the ‘ulema would discuss this issue. It is not just about donating money. by the way how is it used and are they trustworthy? Muslims should donate to the Muslim organizations not the others where u do not know how ur money is being used – just saying. Education is important – We need to go back to qur’an and sunnah the best solution in my opinion.

        • Sister

          November 28, 2011 at 4:01 AM

          This issue should not bring us to arguments insha Allah. The sister perhaps has not witnessed a lot of the struggle of the many somalis who are trying to help their families. The other “africans” comment was distasteful and not fair to the somalis who are doing something. However, both responses cause problems and it was not necessary to just shut the sister out and tell her not to comment. The truth is clear, give excuses for her not knowing about the people who are struggling. The sis should also not have responded with comments that spark arguments.

  4. Nimco Mose-Mohammed

    November 25, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    Dear Umm Sulaim,

    In reply to your post, I would like to remind you that the Somali Diaspora is scattered all over the world and are often in financial need themselves. I do not know where you have heard that they go to ‘cosy resorts’ on holiday, when Somalians are often working class and earn just enough to sustain themselves and their families. Despite this, they do galvanize in times of need and plenty to send their savings to help the needy in Somalia. For example, Somalians in the United Kingdom were collecting money for charity to help the famine stricken people in Somalia long before the media even picked up the story so to say that Somalis are not to doing much to help their people I am afraid is just not correct- after all, there is only so much you can do when bullets and bombs are raining down on you. As far as education of the children of Somalia is concerned, you would be surprised how many children actually progress their studies to high school and university despite Mogadishu being in effect a war zone, and that should be hope for us all, as brother Furqan noted above in his heart-wrenching article. To conclude, the famine in Somalia is not just the product of one event but the cumulative effects of several factors over a long period of time, many of them environmental and due to global warming, something that is beyond the power of ordinary people to change. In the long-term, governments around the world have to recognise global warming as a real danger to the world atmospheres and mobilise efforts to combat its effects in developing countries. Otherwise, I fear, this will not the last famine to touch the East of Africa, and it is the poorest and the most vulnerable who will pick up the bill for the extravaganzas of the richest countries once again. By the way, it would also help if they stopped their toxic industrial wastes into our oceans, killing our livelihood.

    • Umm Sulaim

      November 26, 2011 at 8:44 AM

      And to attribute the statement that Somalis are not doing enough to me IS NOT CORRECT.

      Whoever waits for governments to change their positions on global warming and industrial pollution, or any other issue to solve climate problems etc of Somalia is merely day-dreaming.

      My points in my main comment above concentrated on what the ordinary person has control over and what INDIVIDUALS can do, whether collectively or individually.

      Umm Sulaim

    • Umm Sulaim

      November 26, 2011 at 11:35 AM

      Even those of us living in countries not destroyed by decades of war, etc recognise the little access to education at the grassroots and contribute our quota to a better future for those children. For over 12 years, I have done just that in my various residences.

      To expect the academic situation in a nation like Somalia not to be in dire need of any help it can get is being simplistic. Volunteers go to a number of countries teaching impoverished children, Somali children despite your assurance to the contrary need a similar assistance.

      Umm Sulaim

    • Safia Farole

      November 26, 2011 at 12:46 PM

      Thank you Nimco for expanding on this issue. I hope your insight and understanding helps Umm Sulaim and others to see how complex of a situation this is.

      Safia.

  5. Sister

    November 26, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    The picture of the baby is so heartbreaking, but truly Allah is Most Merciful as they are still alive and whatever help they get it is because of the Mercy of Allah alhamdulillah. Many of us waste so much food and money subhan Allah and are not grateful for the favors of Allah. People do want to help but they do not know where to start.
    For “a few” living in the west, they are afraid to even raise money for fear of “certain governments” arresting them and accusing them of certain actions (if they do not do it through organizations approved by the governments). People become intimidated by them and do not give any help. But this should not stop them.
    Masha Allah may Allah reward the brothers and sisters who have taken their time to go and help our brothers and sisters. May Allah protect them from All Evils.
    Somalia has been in this state for a long time, why just suddenly the people are caring masha Allah. They were asking for help for years and now many different groups are entering for certain agendas. Truly Allah is All-Knowing of what we do. Too many factors that are weighing heavy on our people. And those same people that want the world to know that this land’s people are going through hardships, are very much guilty of causing problems. Anyway the solution is in the quran and the sunnah. If Muslims go back to quran and sunnah, they will find the solution. May Allah change our condition and ease our affairs.
    The *least* we can do is make dua for them Insha Allah.

  6. Leyla

    November 27, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    Jazakumullah khayr, Br Furqan and MuslimMatters.

    May Allah swt continue to Help all His slaves that are suffering all over the world.

  7. Aboo Masood

    November 29, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    I would just like to say, some of the comments made by sister Umm Sulaim came across a little blunt (which you are totally free to be) and that came across as a bit of a shock to the readers of the article, because of the nature of the article and particularilly because most of the comments made before your comment were prayers for the Somalia people and they had an sympathetic theme.

    personally, I see you all as being sincere and wanting good for the part of our nation in Somalia. This Ummah is one nation and we all respond differently when harm touches us. Some are soft and make Dua and blame those responsible, and others ask the question what is being done about it?

    Firstly, I dont think the Somalia communities living outside Somalia can’t deny, that they have not formed a organised, united operation on a big scale to better the situation in Somalia. the reality is that it hasn’t happened and perhaps that is what sister Umm sulaim is enquiring about. The first two categorises out of the three she showed us, were educated individuals earning a living. So whats the hold up? Why cant there be progress on a big scale?

    If there is such project/program then please let us know about it and how we can help.

    Secondly, I would like to say to sister Umm Sulaim that, the somalia community all have family back home that they fund. The folks outside somalia are pumping their economy and that gives them a sense of achievement and it deserves some acknowledgement. Especially if you are not going to outline exactly what you would like from them/expect from them. Reading your comments, I got the impression you was dismissing all the efforts the Somalis have made.

    So if you have a way of bringing about the project you have in mind please give us more of an insight into it, even if you can show us something a different community has done (as a case study).

    Please dont be offended by what I say, I’m just trying to keep things objective.

  8. Sister

    December 1, 2011 at 7:47 AM

    Lets not hide the situation going on in somalia as we speak. WAR!

    A very controversial subject to even speak about. I read today that :

    (Reuters) – New convoys of heavily-armed Ethiopian troops have crossed into Somalia and are heading for central areas, residents said Sunday, days after Addis Ababa said it planned to send troops to help Somali and Kenya forces fighting Islamist insurgents.

    So it is not just the kenyan , ugandan, burundian, ethiopian and every little poor country we know that needs to work on their little poor country and its people, INVADING somalia!

    I just wonder where do these little devils manage to get financial support and invade other lands when they have a lot of problems in their own lands.,, their countries are impoverished! Just smells fishy

    Now we know “certain countries” are capable of funding these little poor countries to help fight this land and frankly its not-a-secret, but people are quiet. Or is it really possible that these impoverished countries have the money to invade somalia?

    Before Somalis try to understand how to help people in somalia, lets not put away the fact that there is war going on. Do not ignore this Big factor that is affecting this land.

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