Kamloops teen creates penpal network connecting hundreds of people from 74 countries - InfoNews

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Kamloops teen creates penpal network connecting hundreds of people from 74 countries

Matthew Ciardullo, right, and Luca Frigerio met at North Kamloops Secondary School and have remained close friends even after Frigerio returned home to Italy.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Matthew Ciardullo
May 31, 2020 - 3:00 PM

A graduating Kamloops student has connected hundreds of teens and young adults through a new global penpal program which started from a simple goal to stay connected with a far away friend.

NorKam Senior Secondary School student Matthew Ciardullo is heavily involved in community and volunteer projects, and the busy teen found he needed something to do during the lockdown. That’s how he and a friend came up with the ‘International Youth Cooperative,’ an unofficial title for what is now a worldwide initiative.

Ciardullo befriended an international classmate, Luca Frigerio, and stayed connected after his friend moved back home to Italy. When the pandemic hit, the two boys decided to create a project for their close friends.

“He lives in one of the worst (COVID-19 impacted) areas of Italy near Milan, and they were basically one of the hardest places hit in the world,” Ciardullo says. “He and I decided to connect his five best friends there with my five best friends here, and we got them all writing emails back and forth.”

Ciradullo says the frequency and letter-writing style of the project was enjoyed by all ten. Two other friends involved, Miklos Balogh and Alex Bergin, helped to expand the project.

“They loved it so much so we decided to expand it. We ran it out of a Google form and hundreds of people filled it out from 74 countries now. It really blew up, it was incredible. North Macedonia, Finland, Iceland, everywhere. It’s really cool,” Ciardullo says.

He says the tech side of the operation was taken over by Balogh, who is familiar with coding and computer programming. He’s also a student of Pearson College, and the school sent out news of the project to students of the 18 global campuses. Ciardullo credits that newsletter and social media to the current success of the project.

“We ask people a bunch of questions and we pair them up based on different stuff. We want them to be from a different country, we want to create a global citizenship feel,” Ciardullo says. “I’m having such a good time. It’s so cool for me to see someone fill it out from whichever country... We’ve covered six continents now. I think everywhere but Antarctica. It’s insane, it’s crazy because it’s entirely youth-led.”

Ciardullo says the participants are matched based on shared interests but aren’t told what it is they have in common. Although the submission form doesn’t ask for any individual's age, Ciardullo says the project is aimed at young adults, who must be older than 16.

“It’s really cool to be part of the reason why youth are writing a letter because no one does that anymore,” Ciardullo says. “It’s so easy to have a surface level conversation by sending messages back and forth… it’s so easy to just ask a question and get an answer. If you’re writing a letter, there’s this added piece. You need to give a bit of your heart into the letter.”

Ciardullo says although the project is in the early stages, they hope to continue connecting people from across the world. If you want to get involved, submit a form by clicking here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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