The Matthew Girvin Story


Matthew attended Stanford University for studies in medicine and international relations. He studied Mandarin Chinese in Beijing during his third year, and after graduation worked in Taipei, Taiwan. Wanting to work more directly with people and in the field of health, Matthew returned to the United States to complete a Masters in Public Health at Emory University.

Matt was a shining principle in the link between the vocation and avocation. His mission and passion was to seek solutions to the international crises that continue to beset virtually all sections of the globe. His focus, with Unicef, was to aid the children of the region; struck by his warmth and generosity among the Mongolians, all of his office mates were powerfully attracted to his light. And in the weary capital of Mongolia, his apartment was a curious mix of his interests in the West, layered by his fondness for the people and culture of Mongolia. His collection of western music was overlaid with found objects and gestures to the archaeology of the land. A television, playing an eternal homage to the UB single station programming, found sacred objects from Tibetan Buddhism nearby. Not far away from the apartment, beyond the deserted city square, Matt had planted a garden, guarded by a taxi driver who was incessantly repairing or washing his vehicle. Flowers flourished in his precariously positioned window boxes. And all about, the dismal condition of the Mongolian people, the cast-away children — loosened by lost nomads, their parents precariously led to the promise of the city — wandered below, in the alleyways and labyrinthine passages that weave their way through the littered cityscape. So Matt, in the dark tedium of his mission, brought his own mirth and luminescence to his enclave, struggling against the hungered crime and theft, and the vagaries of the post Soviet and humanitarian visions of politics, kept his mission true. Matt stayed strong and aimed true — like the Mongolian Khan archer, perilously accurate and doggedly persistent — a fierce commitment, and long the unvanquished; in Matt, a peaceful warrior from the East.

Matthew returned to the field with UNICEF in China, and came to Mongolia in 1997. He served there as Project Officer for Health and Nutrition and later as Programme Officer. While challenging for many, its seasons bitterly extreme, Matthew loved Mongolia, with a distinctly cold winter and its own set of culturally defiant ethnic difficulties in this uniquely fascinating country.

This is how staff in Mongolia remember him:

“Matthew loved his work…he liked field visits because he could see how the local people and children live. He wanted to develop programmes knowing the local situation. At every community, when he was surrounded by children, he used to play with them. He himself was a bit like a child, and he used to find a way to communicate with them in his language and in their local language…”

“He admired nature. Every scene seemed to be fascinating to him – the blue sky, hills, valleys, mountains, animals and rivers. He especially admired high, snow-capped mountains. He liked making fires while camping or staying in a traditional Mongolian ger (tent). He used to say he learned to make fires when he was a scout. Matthew was an organized person and he liked meaningful things.”

“Matthew likes to see things with integrity, coordination and harmony. He was a careful listener. At matt026awork, he was serious, determined, demanding and committed. Outside the office, he was an open, energetic American with a sense of humor. He loved collecting antique Mongolian items such as horse lassos and broken parts of wooden wheels. When meeting local people, he tried to follow their traditions and culture. He was loved by the people who surrounded him, and he is terribly missed by his colleagues.”

“Matthew had a talent for sensing when you needed someone to talk to. He could provide guidance with the patience and wisdom of a kind older brother. And he was always ready with a witticism when the stresses of work would get to me.”

“Matthew was a powerful presence in our meetings, always helping us consider strategies within a   broader framework. You could see how he worked to include all the participants in a discussion and how he would be able to consolidate disparate ideas into a united conceptual vision.”

“He was an important player on our team both in and outside the office. He knew very well his role in the team.”

“As a team we prepared our strategies for the next country programme. We expressed our own vision and thoughts, and he was standing and writing on the flip chart. Our office wall is still covered with those flip charts and his handwriting reminds us of him every day.”

A 16-year-old child from a remote town in the interior of Mongolia wrote us after Matthew’s death: “I was shocked to hear the news. Not only adults but also the children of Mongolia know that he was a great person. We will always remember him.”

This was Matthew. He leaves a terrible sense of emptiness in us all and we will forever remember him. May his gentle soul rest in peace.

written by UNICEF colleagues and Tim Girvin

Friends of Mongolia

Friends of Mongolia (FOM) is organized and operated exclusively for charitable, educational, and developmental purposes, not-for-profit. Friends of Mongolia exists to develop partnerships with the people of Mongolia in furtherance of cultural exchange and human development.

FOM Scholarship Program

The FOM Scholarship was established in 2006, with the aim of assisting young male students from rural communities with high academic potential and financial need to attend post-secondary institutions across Mongolia. The program specifically stipulated that all applicants be male and living outside of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city. The reason for this unique requirement was what is referred to as “Mongolia’s reverse gender gap.” Often rural males are left behind in education because of social and economic demands in the countryside. In fact, according to the National Statistics on Gender in Mongolia, in 2005 only 39% of students enrolled in institutions of higher education were male.[1] Successful applicants were awarded one-year full tuition scholarships.


Operating Strategy

FOM relies almost exclusively on support from volunteers to initiate and administer programs. This method of operation allows the organization to maintain low direct administrative costs relative to programmatic expenditures, running less than 5 percent per year. However, it also makes coordination and implementation of programs more challenging when compared to other organizations with permanent paid staff. This is due to the fact that volunteer work is a free time activity for most contributors, and FOM work is often secondary and tertiary to paid employment.

Maintaining group cohesion and explicitly defining roles, responsibilities, and organizational goals are inextricably linked challenges that FOM as a volunteer, grassroots organization aims to address in its operating strategy.

Matthew Girvin Scholarship Fund

In 2006 FOM began working with Inland Northwest Community Foundation, UNICEF and the Mongolian Youth Development Foundation (MYDF) to help facilitate the distribution