Teen's Booklet Helps Haitian Children

Miami Herald, The (FL)
Section: Neighbors BC
Edition: Final
Page: 4MB

While most kids her age only compose essays and poems as homework assignments, Sara Berlin is already the author and publisher of a book that promotes political activism.

Haitian Children Are Kids Too!, a 28-page booklet, conveys the plight of Haitian children who immigrate to America. Sara, a 12-year-old who lives in North Miami Beach, was first inspired to take up the cause after attending a fundraiser for People for the American Way, a national civil rights group, with her father Louis Berlin last year. The event featured an exhibition of photographs, and she saw one of a boy holding a sign that read ``Haitian Children are Kids Too!''

Unsure what the sign meant, Sara later became distressed as her father explained that Haitian children are shut in detention centers, sometimes for months at a time. She decided, at her father's suggestion, to write a book about the situation to inform and motivate other kids to get involved in the issue.

Sara wound using the photo, by photojournalist Al Crespo, for her book's cover and title. ``They should be treated with respect, like human beings,'' she said of Haitian children. ``They shouldn't be locked up and they should have the right to be free.''

Written for elementary-aged readers, Haitian Children Are Kids Too! is filled with Sara's short essays on problems faced by the Haitian people in their country and in the United States. Photographs were donated by photojournalists and organizations such as Project Medishare, which provides training on how to deliver medication to indigent, rural parts of Haiti, and the Green Family Foundation, which supports local social programs.

Sara got the information for her essays, which describe everything from life on the impoverished island and the dangerous boat trip to the angst of detention center limbo, through Internet searches, encyclopedias and newspaper articles she researched at the library.

In one section entitled ``Detention,'' Sara writes: ``The Immigration police get them once they come to shore. They get locked up. They don't get to see their family. In the centers they sit and do nothing all day. They are so bored, and can't go outside. Kids can't live like that. They have to wait such a long time to see a lawyer or a judge. It is so frustrating and boring. They miss their family and friends. . .''

In some parts of the book Sara's father Louis, the owner of a small business who is active in many political causes, adds background information to clarify her points. For example, on the page where Sara describes the detention process, he weighs in with a paragraph expanding on the possible psychological effects of detention on children.

In the back, Sara lists organizations that assist Haitian refugees.

The booklet, which Sara worked on in the summer and fall of 2003, is the latest of the 12-year-old's social-minded initiatives.

In June 2003, Sara launched a letter-writing campaign at her school to support a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek which would allow Haitian children to be released to relatives within 72 hours of arriving on U.S. soil. More than 2,000 letters were mailed from the Jacobson Sinai Academy.

The bill is now stalled in a House subcommittee, but Sara was honored for her efforts as a recent winner of the Miami Police Department's ``Do the Right Thing'' program.

``Doing the right thing'' is a family affair for the Berlins. Haitian Children Are Kids Too! is published by the Derech Elokim Fund for Jewish Values, which is a philanthropic fund set up by Sara's family, which also includes her mother Nancy, an older sister and three older brothers. The fund maintains a website, www.worldrepair.net, to encourage philanthropy among teens.

Louis and Nancy Berlin also set up individual charitable funds in their children's names at the time of their bar/bat mitzvahs. The ages of Sara and her siblings range from 12 to 23. For those funds, the family asks guests to make donations in lieu of presents.

``When we get involved with charitable projects, we always include our children,'' Louis Berlin said. ``They need to realize why we do what we do and that they have the potential to also make changes in the world.''

Sara printed 5,000 copies of Haitian Children Are Kids Too! and has distributed them at her school, bat mitzvah and at a fundraiser for the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to immigrants.

``We want teachers to use it as a teaching tool,'' Louis Berlin said.

Sara, who says she's seen her peers become aware of Haitian current events through her efforts, hopes Haitian Children Are Kids Too! will continue to have a positive impact.

``I think that me having a book, being published as a kid, will encourage other kids to help out in the community,'' she said. ``If somebody else can do it, they can do it.''

Notes her father: ``We're just beginning, but the goal is to empower other people of Sara's age to realize they can make a difference when they see things they know in their heart are wrong.''

PHOTOS BY C.W. GRIFFIN/HERALD STAFF DOING THE RIGHT THING: Sara Berlin, a sixth-grader at Jacobson Academy, shown with her parents Nancy and Louis, wrote a book (at right) to create awareness among her peers about the hardships faced by Haitian kids that immigrate to America.