Diversity and Inclusion
The Peace Corps seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the U.S. and bring those perspectives and solutions to development issues in the countries we serve. For the Peace Corps, diversity is a collection of individual attributes that together help the agency pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively. These include national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. Diversity also encompass where people are from, where they have lived, and their differences of thought and life experiences.We also seek to create inclusion—a culture that connects each staff and Volunteers to the organization; encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness; and leverages diversity throughout the organization so that all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential—throughout the Volunteer and staff lifecycle.
Diversity and Inclusion at Your Site
Once Volunteers arrive at their sites, diversity and inclusion principles remain the same but take on a different shape, in which your host community may share a common culture and you—the Volunteer—are the outsider. You may be in the minority, if not the sole American like you, at your site. You will begin to notice diversity in perspectives, ethnicity, age, depth of conversation, and degree of support you may receive—and may need to make adjustments. During pre-service training, a session will be held to discuss diversity and inclusion and how you can transcend differences, find common ground, and serve as an ally for your peers.
The Peace Corps emphasizes professional behavior and cross-cultural sensitivity among Volunteers and within their communities to help integration and achieve successful service. As a Volunteer and representative of the United States, you are responsible both for sharing the diversity of U.S. culture (yours and other Americans’) with your host country national counterparts, and also for learning from your host country’s diversity. To ease the transition to life in your host country, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental, compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual, and will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these limitations. During pre-service training, staff will provide training on how to adapt personal choices and behavior to be respectful of the host country culture, and will be available for ongoing support.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
It will be important to absorb and to attempt to understand the cultural nuances of gender roles in your host country. During pre-service training, you will receive an introduction to gender awareness in-country, and will take time to examine your own thinking about gender roles and how they have impacted you. You’ll then learn to analyze development projects using a gender lens to better understand gender roles in your host country and how these gender roles can benefit or limit what females and males may or may not do both from a personal standpoint and in relation to work and relationships in-country.
Women in Belize generally have traditional roles, though the situation is changing. For example, women in Maya and Mestizo communities are primarily responsible for the maintenance of the household, and many are expected to be subservient and obedient. In larger towns, however, women’s roles are shifting. More women are attending a university than ever before and, as the entire country moves from being less dependent on farming and fishing to being more dependent on tourism and business, women are gaining new opportunities. Female Volunteers in Belize should be careful that their actions are not misinterpreted. Behavior that one might consider perfectly friendly and innocent, such as going out for a drink with or accepting a ride home from a man, may be interpreted as a sexual advance or invitation. Many American television shows, which Belizeans watch, depict sexually promiscuous American women, and Belizean men may have had past experiences with American tourists that lead them to generalize about American women's sexual behavior. Female Volunteers should be diligent in maintaining professional relationships with male co-workers. One of the hardest things for female Volunteers to accept is that Belize is a society that has been, and is likely to continue to be, male-dominated.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Because of limited exposure, some foreign nationals will expect all U.S. citizens to be white, and are unaware of diversity in the U.S. For Volunteers, the range of responses to their skin color may vary greatly: from being mistaken for a host country national to being questioned about their U.S. citizenship, to facing behavior and language skill expectations or ridicule, to being able to get better prices for goods and services. These instances can be turned into teachable moments for the Volunteer and the host country national. All Volunteers, including white Volunteers and those of color, should be mindful of the issues of race/ethnicity that are embedded in U.S. culture and within your country of service, and should be mindful of being an ally to your fellow Volunteers.
African-American Volunteers in Belize often express frustration and disappointment with being asked where they are from instead of being recognized as Americans. They are often mistaken for being Kriol and, therefore, are presumed to know the language. In addition, Belizeans sometimes judge them, at least initially, as less professionally competent than Caucasian Volunteers. After a settling-in period when the community learns more about the Volunteer, however, most African Americans say they are well accepted by their communities. Hispanic-American Volunteers sometimes find that they are initially perceived as Mexican or Central American, or may even be perceived as a Belizean Mestizo rather than U.S. American. As such, they are expected to speak Spanish fluently. Similarly, Asian-American Volunteers find that they are often identified by their cultural or racial heritage instead of their American citizenship. The large presence of immigrants from China and Taiwan in Belize has, at times, created hostility among some Belizeans toward people of Chinese descent. In spite of these issues, most Belizeans will graciously welcome you into their homes and communities.
Possible Issues for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Ally (LGBTQA) Volunteers
The Peace Corps actively supports Volunteers and staff of all genders and sexual orientations, and encourages Volunteers to serve as allies to their fellow Volunteers in all aspects. Many countries where the Peace Corps serves have more restrictive cultures with regard to sexual orientation and non-conforming gender identities, though some are more permissive. In every country, Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers to provide them with locally informed perspectives. Some LGBTQ Volunteers have chosen to come out to community members, with a result of positive and negative reactions, while some have come out only to select Peace Corps staff and Volunteers. Many have chosen to be discreet about their orientation and/or gender identity within their host community. LGBTQA support groups may be available in-country, providing a network to support the needs of the Peace Corps LGBTQA community. More information about serving as an LGBTQ Volunteer is available at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Peace Corps Alumni website at lgbrpcv.org. Additionally, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
Peace Corps staff will work with disabled Volunteers to support them in training, housing, jobsites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively. For additional support, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].
Possible Issues for Volunteer Couples
Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to change their roles to conform better with traditional relationships in-country. Host country nationals will often not understand American relationship dynamics and may be outwardly critical of relationships that do not adhere to traditional gender roles. It is also helpful to think about how pressures to conform to local culture can be challenging to men and women in very different ways. Considering how your partner is being affected and discussing what, if any, aspects of your relationship should be changed can help reduce stress for you both.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Volunteers in Belize are frequently asked about their religious affiliation and may be invited to attend a community church. Volunteers who do not attend church may be challenged to explain their reluctance, but it is usually possible to politely decline if the church or religious practice is not one of your choice. Most Volunteers find effective ways to cope with these situations and come to feel quite at home in Belize.
Possible Issues for 50+ Volunteers
Older Volunteers may find their age an asset in-country and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers. But, pre-service training can be particularly stressful for older trainees, whose lifelong learning styles and habits may or may not lend themselves to the techniques used. A 50+ individual may be the only older person in a group of Volunteers and initially may not feel part of the group. Some 50+ Volunteers may find it difficult to adapt to a lack of structure and clarity in their role after having worked for many years in a very structured and demanding job. More than younger Volunteers, older Volunteers may have challenges in maintaining lifelong friendships and may want to consider assigning power of attorney to someone in the States to deal with financial matters.