children serenaded Chargers offensive tackle Roman Oben and his wife, Linda, as
soon as the couple reached the tiny school in Nguti, Cameroon. The kids offered
gifts—hats, a homemade shield, handwritten notes of appreciation. This was one
of the stops on Oben's recent eight-day visit to his home country. "They
didn't care that I was a pro football player," says the 34-year-old Oben,
who has two sons. "They only cared that I was there."
At 6'4", 305
pounds, Oben makes an impression. So did this journey, during which he visited
the grave of his father in Buea (whom he never knew and who died last year) and
devoted himself to charitable work. Oben set up bank accounts to help families
in Nguti buy groceries, and he earmarked donations so children could receive
birth certificates from the government. A starter on the Buccaneers' Super Bowl
team of 2002, Oben lived in Cameroon until he was four, then moved to
Washington, D.C., with his mother, Marie, who had gotten a job at the Cameroon
embassy. Roman last went to his native country in '04. "When Roman saw the
severity of their poverty," Linda says, "he realized that could have
easily have been him in that situation."
In all, Oben says
he has spent nearly $40,000 of his own money to fund projects in the West
African nation. He has also helped build a dormitory for an orphanage in Buea
and not long ago received a $30,000 grant from the NFL to assist with future
efforts. "It's become fashionable for people to help African
countries," says Oben, "but a place like Cameroon tends to get
overlooked. I just want to do my part."