By Ivett de las Mercedes
HAVANA TIMES – Orthopedic shoes are essential for anyone who suffers from foot problems. In Cuba, there are serious shortcomings in this service: a lack of resources, outdated designs, delays in arrivals. Roxana Alonso Cruz (33 years old) has a son who wears orthopedic shoes.
HT: Correcting feet in time is essential for growth and development. How long has your son been using these kinds of shoes?
Roxana Alonso: We’ve been tied to these all of his childhood. Ugly boots that take ages to arrive and an endless number of excuses. It’s impossible to think that a child is going to use just one pair of boots per year. This reality is unbearable, he wants to be like other children, he wants to wear tennis shoes, sandals, be trendy. When you manage to convince him that he needs to wear orthopedic shoes, he accepts it but on one condition: have a new pair for going out, but it’s impossible. It’s hard for a mother to see their children suffer and sometimes, many parents give in and end up buying a pair of brand shoes, without worrying about whether these are the right ones for them or not. It’s our responsibility to make sure our children grow up healthy, and not only physically.
HT: What was going to school like with those odd shoes?
RA: He went through it all: jokes, taunting, discrimination. He had very few friends and didn’t have a girlfriend. He was never invited to a birthday party. Feeling different made him become withdrawn. He would come home a lot of the time and throw the boots on the floor. One day, I caught him with a knife, trying to break them. It was horrible. How do you convince a child that it’s for their own wellbeing!
HT: So being different was a problem for him.
RA: Thank God he’s learned to laugh at himself a little bit and at the horrible jokes they make about him. Now, he’s a confident teenager. He knows that he’ll be able to throw out these horrible specialist shoes soon.
HT: Do you think that your son wouldn’t have suffered as much if there had been better models?
RA: Definitely. I know it’s hard for a country with a blockade to think about these kinds of things, they might seem trivial, but that’s not the case. Sometimes I sit and wonder what other children’s lives are like if their parents don’t have the same patience and give the same amount of time I give to help my son. I imagine that there are many kids who need orthopedic shoes and don’t wear them because they are afraid of being mocked and rejected.
HT: What do you think about bullying at school?
RA: I think that bullying at schools is a determining factor in the physical and mental health of our children, I’m convinced that bone problems have increased because of malnutrition and because many parents, always trying to get by, don’t think to have a look if their children have flat feet, a dropped metatarsal, overpronation, even more so if they have to go to a specialized store and suffer seeing their kids suffer, when they are already overcome with the daily struggle to survive another day.
HT: Why are shoe arrivals delayed?
RA: I’ve heard it all: broken machines, flaws in pulleys, unsharpened knives, a lack of material, you have to have a lot of perseverance and patience and if you have a little bit of money… you can’t choose the model, they only come in one style.
HT: What do you think the Public Health Ministry could do?
RA: First of all, be aware that orthopedic shoes are a necessity and if it’s for younger children, you have to bear in mind the times we live in. Modernizing equipment and looking for less expensive materials could be another solution. It would be a good idea for public health officials to do a survey at schools with children who need orthopedic shoes, and that this also serves as an opportunity to hear the rest of students’ opinions and use this space to talk about differences.
HT: Do you think that workers making shoes also need to be aware of this?
RA: I would like to think that these workers know how much responsibility they have in their hands. They are also health workers, albeit indirectly. We have talked about children and teenagers up until now, but what about our elderly. Bone problems increase as you get older, there are many who need support, orthopedic shoes is a matter of life or death for many.
We know what can happen to an elderly person who doesn’t have adequate protection on their feet, a fall can be lethal. In a country where the over 60 population is growing, this service is vital. We have to really take the modernization of these small workshops seriously. Maybe a factory could be built to meet the population’s demand. Orthopedic shoes are medicine, and workers need to be trained in the techniques used in other countries, or is Cuba the only place in the world where this service is needed?