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SPOTLIGHT: Freeport teen helps native Haiti

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FREEPORT, Ill. — The colorfully dressed Haitian kids that Sarah Cain drew in permanent markers look happy.

Girls in pigtails hold hands, a boy plays with a ball, another girl holds a doll under a Christmas tree. She placed the images on notecards she is selling to benefit children in Haiti.

Children she saw on two trips to Haiti — the Caribbean country where she was born and adopted from when she was 8 months old — inspired her art.

"Some of the kids had shoes, some were barefoot," the 14-year-old said, recalling her visit in 2011 to God's Littlest Angels Orphanage. It's where she lived before she was adopted and where she and her mom, Susan, took supplies last year. Sarah said the caretakers seemed like capable, caring people.

A 2010 trip with Love a Child Mission after the devastating earthquake alarmed her, though. "When we arrived outside the Port au Prince airport, there were people surrounding us, and some were begging. That did make me scared, but that did not last long. Some things that were hard to see were the poverty and the rubble from the earthquake."

Sarah recognizes the long-reaching effects of poverty, her mother says. "She understands that in Haiti, books and the ability to read are luxuries and are not taken for granted."

Proceeds from Note Cards for Haiti will go for children's books, and Sarah may focus on books in Creole for girls being helped by a group that works with kids who are household servants/slaves.

Sarah is selling three images on three cards, each for 80 cents. An enlarged, framed print of one of the cards was auctioned for $120 at a Hope for Haitians fundraiser Aug. 25 at Giovanni's in Rockford. That print has drawn inquiries about prints for sale for schools and individuals, Susan said.

Sarah is an eighth-grader at Pearl City Junior High. After college, she would like to write and illustrate books, especially for children in Haiti. "Maybe someday I could live in Haiti all the time, but for now, I want to make mission trips for taking in the books. One day, we want to make a library for children and make sure they have reading classes."

The Cains plan to visit Haiti next year to take the first children's books from the fundraising effort.

Sarah's determination for her project doesn't surprise her math teacher, Megan Spahr.

"She helps in the classroom," she said. "She is willing to help other students ... is determined, hard-working ... and distractions don't phase her. She is a very giving, loving young woman, a bubbly person to be around."

Selling the notecards has roots in Sarah's interest in reading.

"The idea of bringing books in Creole into Haiti for small children and especially children trapped in slavery seemed to really engage her and give her direction," Susan said. "Her love for reading is amazing, and I do not think she could imagine a life without books."

Sarah recently read "The Help," which is about racism in the South in the 1960s and African-American maids. And she reads books about the Holocaust. She's not all serious, though: She has many Shirley Temple movies and likes to ride a scooter for fun.

Sarah's a typical teenager, too, her mother said. "She procrastinates on projects, but we had deadlines for the development of the notecards, as we knew there was the process of printing them and getting the word out about our fundraising and our goals."

Sarah is also kindhearted. "She knows from me that I want her to be compassionate about helping people in poverty in the US as much as in Haiti and Africa or other places in the world."

Susan is a nurse for OSF Hospice in Rockford and traveled on volunteer missions when she worked for the Visiting Nurses Association. "During tours in Somalia and Rwanda, we would go by numerous unmarked graves, see children as walking skeletons and dying. It is something that is with you forever.

"My greatest gift in life is Sarah, and since Haiti gave me her, I feel we need to give back to her birth country. And this is our little project that will, hopefully, someday be a big project."

Online: http://bit.ly/OjneKe

Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com