Voice to the World

Voice to the World

October 28, 2011
Alumni move from student volunteers to community partners

Dominique Simon, ’11, and Prayas Neupane, ’11, came to the University of Richmond as international students from Germany and Nepal, respectively. Four years later, they left as full-fledged citizens of the Richmond community who are trying to make an impact in their adopted home.

As first-year students, both began volunteering in the community with the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) — Neupane worked at Refugee and Immigration Services through the Bonner Scholars Program, while Simon signed up for Build It and volunteered at middle schools in the Northside area of Richmond. The two may have been working with very different populations, but they found one thing in common — the need for better instruction on basic computer and technology skills.

After discovering that an eighth-grade student he was mentoring couldn’t type, Simon began researching the digital divide. “I found that some school systems have keyboarding, but they’re not required to take it,” he says. “[The students] know how to play games, they can get around school blocks and get on Facebook, but they don’t know basics like Word, PowerPoint, and how to use the Internet effectively.”

Neupane found a similar situation when teaching a computer class at Refugee and Immigration Services. “I told them to turn on the computer and most of them told me that was the first time they had seen a computer,” he says. “They had no idea how to do anything.”

As roommates, the two frequently discussed the impact of the digital divide and, eventually, the idea for Voice to the World was hatched. During their junior year, Simon and Neupane began teaching basic computer classes, focusing on typing and presentation skills for students at Henderson Middle School, as well as online job-search instruction for those at Refugee and Immigration Services. They began offering the classes to other schools and organizations, and the demand showed a clear need for better technology instruction.

They continued offering the classes while students at UR, but when Simon and Neupane graduated in May, that wasn’t the end. They decided to forego the typical post-graduation job hunt and are instead dedicated to establishing Voice to the World as a nonprofit organization. They are pursuing grant funding to support further development. “We weren’t ready to let go of the community that we had been working with for almost four years,” Neupane says. “We could see that something wasn’t right and, even if we cannot fix it permanently, we want people to recognize the problem and hopefully start working toward [a solution.]”

They’re also looking to the very place that helped them get started for support. Bonner Scholars and Build It volunteers are assisting as course instructors, and the CCE is helping spread the word to their partner organizations. “Allowing them to take more leadership roles benefits both of us,” Simon says. “They are getting involved in the community to gain the experience and help out just as we did.”