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Student chosen as UN goodwill ambassador

Matthew Cimone, a U of T Scarborough student in the International Development Studies co-op program, is pictured at the United Nations.

Move over Angelina Jolie -- a student from the University of Toronto Scarborough has been chosen as a goodwill youth ambassador to the United Nations.

Matthew Cimone, a student in his final year of the International Development Studies (IDS) co-op program, was chosen from young people across the country to represent Canada for a two-year term with the UN, focusing on issues that affect the world’s youth.  

“The whole thing is fantastic and unexpected,” said Cimone, 25. “When I heard the news, I realized that my life would be greatly changed, for the better, for the next two years.”

One male and one female delegate from 192 member states of the UN were chosen as ambassadors for their countries. Sara Nicholls, a student at the University of Ottawa, was selected as Canada’s female youth ambassador.

One of the ambassadors’ first responsibilities was to travel to New York this fall to represent Canada at the UN Global Youth Leadership Summit, the first of its kind to recognize the role of youth in international development goals. The delegates at the one-week summit met with top organizers from agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Program, and they  discussed issues related to youth and global poverty -- with a particular focus on how sport and culture can bring about positive change.

Cimone will serve as a goodwill ambassador until Dec. 31, 2008, representing both Canada and Right to Play, a humanitarian organization that uses sports and play programs to encourage healthy physical, social and emotional development of refugee children, former child combatants, children in conflict areas, and young people at risk of or orphaned by HIV/AIDS.   

At the UN, delegates discussed the importance of youth energy and enthusiasm to the world’s future, and the value of including youth as stakeholders in international development. The two Canadian delegates played a key role in drafting an official declaration of the Global Rights of Youth.

Being a goodwill ambassador has opened up a whole new world, Cimone said.

“I’ve never felt so empowered in my life,” he said. “This experience has given me access to incredible resources, and I’m now part of a global network of youth activists. The United Nations name carries a lot of weight, and I’ve found that people are very receptive to our ideas as a result.”

The delegates will continue as advocates for youth empowerment in their home countries, and they have established a web site and online network in order to maintain the connections with other youth from around the world.

“It was humbling to meet these young people and to hear about the activities they are pursuing,” said Cimone. “I also realized how fortunate I am, since many of the youth were going back to countries with broken political structures and dictatorships, and they will struggle to accomplish their goals.”

International development has become a passion for Cimone, a native of Thunder Bay. As part of the IDS program, Cimone went overseas for a year to do a co-op placement in Africa. He spent three months in Uganda and nine months in Sierra Leone as a volunteer with Right to Play.  He facilitated the introduction of sports as an educational tool in Sudanese refugee camps, and played ball games with young people in an effort to help mobilize and bring them together as a community.

“The children in the camps could not return to their homes or villages,” he said. “Either their villages had been destroyed by war or their families had disowned them after they had been forced to serve as child soldiers. Sports are a way to help them connect with community elders and other youth who can try to be role models for them, as well as a way to enhance personal discipline, self-respect and confidence.” In Sierra Leone, Right to Play was at the forefront of the country’s struggle to reach out to youth through the National World AIDS Day event, which promotes awareness of HIV, often using sports as a fundamental means of education.

Cimone was also selected this fall to serve as a youth speaker for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), traveling to various high schools to raise awareness of global issues. So far he has mainly visited schools in southern Ontario, but he may be asked to visit schools across Canada in the coming year. Last summer, he also led a team of Canadian young people to the Dominion Republic to help construct housing and facilitate health initiatives.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that, no matter what skills you have, there’s a place for them in the international development arena. Everyone can play a role, whether it’s by donating dollars, laying brick and mortar, or coaching on a newly constructed football pitch. Eighty per cent of the world’s population wakes up in a developing country every day, and fifty per cent of those do not have access to clean water, and they struggle for the most basic things. There is clearly a need to mobilize people in the developed countries, because unless we all gather and make an effort, we will not meet the Millennium Development Goals, which are aimed at halving the current level of poverty by 2015.”

Professor Ken MacDonald, a member of the IDS faculty, said Cimone is an outstanding choice for this role. “Matt leads by example. He communicates his excitement to others in a way that seems infectious, and this serves to mobilize the people around him. He will be a wonderfully effective goodwill ambassador. His overseas experience gives him knowledge crucial to the position. His remarkably tireless commitment to others is combined with a modesty that’s endearing. Matt’s accomplishments are emblematic of the kinds of students that the IDS program attracts.”

For more information on the International Development Studies co-op program at U of T Scarborough, visit

For more information on the Right to Play organization, visit

by Mary Ann Gratton

© University of Toronto Scarborough