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Uruguay-Born Soccer Star's Goal: Setting Latin American Youth on Right Course

Tab Ramos, U.S. "soccer ambassador" in Guatemala, hopes to repeat his experience in other Latin American nations

Posted: September 13, 2005


    Tab Ramos
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 COUNTRIES

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 Uruguay.

Being a Hall-of-Fame soccer star in a soccer-mad country certainly helped him get his message across, Ramos readily concedes.

"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 enough."

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 it."

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 of education.

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.

Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

 
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