Washington -- Getting
elected to the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame has not
dimmed the goal of 38-year-old Tab Ramos to help impoverished
children in Latin America make something out of their lives.
Ramos, who was inducted August 29 into the
Hall of Fame in Oneonta, New York, after a star-studded
career in the U.S. soccer professional league, and on teams
in Mexico and Spain, has used his sports celebrity to impress
upon children the importance of attending school and gaining
skills for later life.
Three other former U.S. soccer stars --
Marcelo Balboa, John Harkes, and Fernando Clavijo -- were
inducted with Ramos into the Hall of Fame.
Interviewed September 12, Ramos, a native
of Montevideo, Uruguay, who came to the United States at
age 11, still has the "little kid" in him when
talking about being elected to the Oneonta soccer shrine.
"It's something you dream about when
you're a child," said Ramos. "Most kids growing
up want to be an athlete or a musician in a band. So for
the few of us who are lucky enough to be able to participate
in a profession doing what we love to do, getting elected
to the Hall of Fame is something that exceeds your imagination
and your dreams."
GUATEMALA TRIP MAY BE REPEATED IN OTHER
But Ramos also speaks passionately about
his May 16-19 trip to Guatemala for the U.S. State Department's
"Speaker and Specialist Program," where he served
as a "soccer ambassador" conducting soccer clinics
and visiting facilities that help at-risk children.
The Speaker and Specialist program is designed
to bring U.S. experts from a variety of fields to other
countries for an exchange of viewpoints on subjects of common
interest. Programs include conferences, seminars, lectures
and other public events.
For Ramos, his message in Guatemala was
simple and direct: that sports is important because it helps
build healthy bodies and minds, but that getting a good
education will help you through your whole life. His schedule
permitting, Ramos hopes to repeat his experience in Guatemala
for the State Department in other Latin American nations,
possibly in January or February of 2006. His itinerary for
such a trip might include four or five countries, including
Honduras, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, and perhaps his native
Being a Hall-of-Fame soccer star in a soccer-mad
country certainly helped him get his message across, Ramos
"Soccer is their sport" in Guatemala,
said Ramos. "Whether rich or poor, they pay attention
to the fact I played in three World Cups for the United
States, so that gives credibility to what you're trying
to say. And so we use sports to try to help spread the important
message, which is to get kids to school and to preach the
value of a good education."
ACCESS TO EDUCATION KEY
Ramos, who now owns a sports center that
conducts soccer programs in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania,
found his trip to Guatemala enlightening about what is being
done to help poor children in the Central American nation.
But he adds that so much more help is needed.
"One of the things I wasn't familiar
with was how many children in Guatemala do not have access
to going to school," said Ramos. "It was great
to see the number of programs put in place by the government
of Guatemala to help children who live with their parents
on the streets get to school somehow. But it was still not
Many children can go to school for only
30-40 days a year in Guatemala, Ramos said, because of such
problems as the fact that their parents are constantly on
the move trying to eke out a subsistence living. By not
attending school, children living on the streets are at
risk of joining a criminal gang.
Ramos said many 10- and 11-year-olds in
Guatemala are already joining gangs, "which makes it
very difficult for the Guatemalan government to help"
such children. This causes a "snowball effect"
where children not in school become involved in anti-social
behavior, he said.
"It's an incredibly difficult situation"
in Guatemala regarding children not in school, Ramos said.
"So I'm glad that I went, because we probably saw a
couple thousand children in the week I was there -- and
if I was able to help even one of them, the trip was worth
The State Department was also glad that
Ramos, who speaks flawless Spanish, went to Guatemala. The
State Department reported that Guatemalans "loved him"
wherever he visited in the capital of Guatemala City and
nearby stops. His trip included a visit to the Guatemalan
Football Federation, where he met with coaches, directors,
and the country's under-21 soccer team. He told team members
they were role models for children and that they needed
to behave as such. He also encouraged the players to continue
their academic studies, because only the most fortunate
and gifted few can survive the fierce competition to continue
playing soccer at the professional level.
At another stop at "Mi Casa,"
an organization that provides food, shelter, and education
to over 400 street children, Ramos spent about three hours
playing soccer with children of all ages and delivering
a message about the dangers of drugs and the importance
Ramos says he hopes to participate again
in the State Department's outreach program because of its
importance to cultural exchange and understanding between
the United States and countries around the world.
"This is a great program and I thank"
the State Department for doing it, said Ramos. He added
that he hopes his trop to Guatemala will encourage other
professional soccer players to take up the cause of helping
the world's disadvantaged children.
Washington File Staff Writer