Bhim Thapaliya of Focus Talk COVID-19

Bhim Thapaliya, pictured above, shares COVID-19 updates in Nepali with members of his community.

Rajen Upretti can remember the days of wrangling up a few rupees in his refugee camp to go see movies on the big screen.

Seeing actors in the movies instilled a desire to be on the screen in some fashion, and now years later, between auditioning for prestigious acting schools such as Carnegie Mellon and Julliard, Upretti is onscreen, delivering vital news to the Nepali community in Lancaster.

Upretti is a communications major at Millersville University, and, in the lead up to Census Day on April 1, he got a major education in the importance of the census from Prof. Theresa Russell-Loretz.

A lot of people don't know about the census due to language barriers, Upretti says. "It is important for everyone to be counted."

After writing letters to Church World Services and the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, Upretti was struck by the idea to get the word out himself. In the past, Upretti has helped his church, the Bhutanese Nepali Church of Lancaster, create music videos. After borrowing camera equipment from the church and staging a blanket behind a desk in lieu of a green screen, Upretti got to work.

"It took two weeks to get the video right," Upretti says. "I really wanted to make a good video that looked like the news, so people can actually watch, not a selfie video or something like that."

The four and a half minute broadcast, which begins with quintessential broadcast news graphics and music, finds Upretti delivering the urgency of filling out the census, as well as a short history about it, in Nepali, with English subtitles.

Though he came to the United States in 2009, Upretti was sure to check with members of the local Nepali community to ensure that the translation would be correct. Within days of the video hitting the internet, proof positive of his work began to show.

"A lot of friends and relatives called me after the video came out to ask questions and say that they filled out the census," Upretti says. "I feel proud of myself for doing the work."

Focus Talk

Upretti is also devoting time to a similar initiative, "Focus Talk," which was started by Bhim Thapaliya, founder of the Act for Humanity Foundation. As COVID-19 began to make inroads in Lancaster, Thapaliya sensed a similar feeling that members of the Nepali community were not sensing the same urgency.

"One of the biggest issues is that our parents, the older generation, they don't speak the same language," says Thapaliya. "They're out of the loop in getting information, so we felt like we could provide information to bridge the gap."

Thus began "Focus Talk_COVID-19," the first in a planned series of video updates aimed at getting accurate information directly to the Nepalese community in Lancaster. Videos are shared in the group daily from Monday to Friday, offering CDC guidelines, new information and general statistics on COVID-19, all delivered in Nepali by Thapaliya.

To see the daily updates provided by Focus Talk, click here.

Thapaliya is quick to mention that he's "not good at technology stuff," so a small team helps out - Govinda Acharya, who helps with editing, Milan Uprety, who occasionally assists with delivering updates, and Upretti.

"I help Bhim in a technological way, to make sure the videos looks good," says Upretti.

While COVID-19 is obviously on the forefront in terms of importance, Thapaliya says that topics ranging from mental health, housing and civic engagement are also on the slate.

Thapaliya has already seen the engagement with the videos in his community grow.

"On weekend days when there are no updates, I've started getting messages and calls asking where the updates are," Thapaliya says with a laugh.

Outside of the videos, Upretti and Thapaliya are brainstorming other ways to assist their community, including starting a GoFundMe campaign to go towards buying and delivering groceries to people who are unable to go to the grocery store.

As with the world at large, Thapaliya says the scourge of "fake news" is not a trademark of any one community, as a number of immigrants get news from Facebook and YouTube, where information can be quickly spread without the proper fact checking.

"An issue I find with our community is that they come from countries like Nepal, where there are a lot of traditional things," says Thapaliya, who came to Lancaster in 2010. "You know, like some sources say if you eat certain spices or ginger, it will kill the germs, and that's not proven at all."

What to read next