BROWNSVILLE, August 25 - “You take this shoestring and make a loop; the loop is a tree.
This other shoestring is the squirrel; run him around the tree and then have him jump through a hole in the tree and out the other side!”
The four almost five year old seems to like the idea of running a squirrel around a tree—and why not! She has a beautiful, brand new pair of shoes, just in time for school. Now she learning how to tie the laces. No Velcro for this child.
“They were expensive shoes,” said the mom, “but I found a pretty good deal.” She is relieved to have that chore done with.
New shoes and the beginning of a new school year seem a bit like Thanksgiving and turkey; New Years and tamales—they match.
Down the street, a week ago, about 2000 children lined up on a hot August morning. They were participating in the Brownsville Independent School District’s and the Brownsville Community Health Center’s Back to School Health Fair. The school nurses did the tedious work of registering the children; the health center’s staff took on the onerous task of vaccinating kids who had no idea that this event included a trauma just for them.
A first time collaboration, the event planners would have been worried about a lack of parking spaces, but that was not a problem. Many of the families walked to the event.
For a health fair, this would seem to be a good idea—walking, not driving. The problem for many of the children, though, was that they didn’t have decent shoes. Some showed up with shoes that were duct-taped together; many were simply barefoot.
Shoes are expensive, in fact, beyond the reach of so many families in our neighborhood. The August pavement was as merciless as ever, and these were tender feet that were bouncing up and down, looking for relief.
The nurses were heart broken, and, in the way of so many of those who work in health care, already looking for a solution.
"Next year," one of them said, "We are going to have vouchers not only for school supplies, but for shoes as well."
Next year. For this year, families will make do the best way that they can. On Monday, their children will be bathed and groomed; their shirts and their dresses clean. For many families, though, the children’s footware will broadcast the truth of hard times, mean times that are merciless even, and perhaps especially, with the innocents amongst us.
Michael Seifert is a community activist who lives in Brownsville, Texas. The above column first appeared in Seifert's blog, http://alongsideaborder.blogspot.mx/