Diversity and Inclusion
The Peace Corps seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the U.S. and bring diverse 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 encompasses where people are from, where they have lived, and their differences of thought and life experiences.
Peace Corps Cambodia leadership and staff are committed to a journey of discovery on ways to help trainees and Volunteers understand and proactively address biases that they might encounter related to race, skin color, ethnicity, intersectionality, age, disability, and more. We are committed to discovering and facilitating constructive ways to help trainees and Volunteers to be identity and body confident in the face of bias challenges they may face while serving in Cambodia.
Peace Corps Cambodia seeks to create inclusion—a culture where people are respected and appreciated, and that connects staff members 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.
Please read the follow sections below and if you have any questions regarding diversity and inclusion in Peace Corps service, please contact the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity at [email protected].
Diversity and Inclusion at Your Site
Diversity and inclusion within the Volunteer cohort takes on a different shape when the Volunteers are at site. U.S. concepts of diversity and inclusion will need to expand to make room for the host country and host community’s own reality around diversity and concepts of inclusion. Additionally, you may be the sole American at your site, and therefore expected to make the adjustments needed to integrate into the community and collaborate on projects effectively and appropriately. During pre-service training, sessions will be held to introduce you to the Peace Corps approach to Intercultural Competence, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ICDEI) to transcend differences, find common ground, and serve as an ally for your peers and community members.
The Peace Corps emphasizes Volunteers must exercise professional behavior and cross-cultural sensitivity towards other Volunteers and individuals within their communities to help integration and achieve successful service. As a Volunteer and representative of the United States, you are responsible for sharing your knowledge and perspective on the U.S. American experience with your Cambodian counterparts. You will also be expected to actively and respectfully learn from the host country’s national staff and community members about their view of diversity and cultural norms within Cambodia. In a professional working environment Peace Corps Volunteers are held to the same standards as their Cambodian counterparts.
To ease the transition to life in Cambodia, 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 cultural norms and limitations. Please reflect on whether you will be willing to adapt your appearance, including cutting your hair, concealing tattoos, removing body piercings and following local standards of dress, in order to successfully serve in this cultural context. These are difficult choices that may have close ties to your identity and should be considered now as you are begin the training process. During pre-service training, staff will provide training on how you can adapt and make personal choices and behavior that are respectful of the host country culture. After pre-service training, staff will provide you with ongoing support. We will listen to your experiences and work with you to develop approaches and strategies that will help strengthen your community integration.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
It will be important to absorb and to attempt to understand the cultural nuances of gender roles in Cambodia. During pre-service training, you will receive an introduction to gender awareness in-country, and will be given an opportunity to take time to examine your own thinking about gender roles and how they have impacted you. You will then learn how to analyze development projects using a gender lens to help you better understand gender roles in Cambodia, and how these gender roles can benefit or limit what females and males may or may not do in their community—both from a personal standpoint and in relation to the work and relationships you will develop in Cambodia.
As with all things, gender roles may vary region to region, community to community, and family to family. However, Volunteers in Cambodia are likely to find that roles within their host communities are prescribed by gender, particularly in homes and at the schools where you work. For example, females may be expected to help out with certain chores around the home, stay indoors at night, and are required to wear long structured skirts to work. Males may be asked to participate in other activities such as farming and heavy drinking with other men in the community.
Serving as a Volunteer of Color
Because of limited exposure, some host country nationals will expect all U.S. citizens to be white, and may be unaware of the wide breadth of diversity of people in the U.S. For Volunteers, the range of responses to their race or 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 become teachable moments for the Volunteer and the host country national.
While Volunteers can experience challenging interactions with host country nationals regarding their race, ethnicity and color, they can also encounter the same challenges within their Volunteer community. All Volunteers, including White Volunteers and people of color, are expected to be mindful and sensitive in how they approach and discuss to race, ethnicity and color differences.. This requires trainees and Volunteers be mindful and sensitive to the issues surrounding race, color and ethnicity that are embedded in U.S. culture, and within your country of service. It requires a commitment to learning and allyship with your fellow Volunteers. Peace Corps staff are committed to supporting all Volunteers to be safe, healthy, and effective during their service. This includes promoting and ensuring a safe and supportive Volunteer community, and addressing significant conflicts as they arise.
One of the challenges that Peace Corps staff will help provide support to Volunteers on is how to best navigate the issue of colorism, which can be defined as attitudes and treatment within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin. In general, the Cambodian standard of ideal beauty includes viewing individuals with light skin tones as more beautiful and acceptable. Also, it is common for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, or Pacific Islanders to be mistaken as Cambodians. The hierarchy of colorism may also result in Cambodian colleagues viewing the work of White Volunteers as being of greater value and holding them in higher regard. Peace Corps staff are committed to supporting Volunteers of color and to formulating strategies to combat these issues and developing allies to help navigate these challenges. Most Volunteers find acceptance and respect once they have developed personal relationships, and demonstrates their professional competence. There are also other resources for support, such as Volunteer affinity groups to gain peer support.
Serving as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA+) Volunteers
The Peace Corps actively supports Volunteers and staff of all genders, sexual orientations and identities, and encourage Volunteers to serve as allies to their fellow Volunteers in all aspects of service. Many countries where the Peace Corps serves have prohibitive legal requirements or restrictive cultural norms with regard to sexual orientation and non-conforming gender identities, although some are more permissive. Volunteers will need to be mindful of cultural norms, and use their judgment to determine the best way to approach sexual orientation and gender identity in their host countries. In every country, Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers to help provide them with local perspectives on these kinds of matters. Some LGBTQIA+ Volunteers have chosen to come out to community members, resulting in positive and negative reactions, while others 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 that can provide a network to support the needs of the Peace Corps LGBTQA+ Volunteer community.
As a cultural norm, generally Cambodians do not usually recognize LGBTQIA+ individuals or identities, nor are there criminal penalties against sexual acts between members of the same sex. There are some documented Cambodian same-sex married couples. While people in Cambodia may be generally tolerant, their values and mores concerning sexual orientation and gender identity may be more conservative than those in some parts of the U.S. Although homosexuality in Cambodia is not illegal, it is a taboo subject and generally not accepted. In Cambodia, making known a sexual orientation other than heterosexual can result in ostracism. Physical contact in public between members of the same sex (such as linking arms while walking down the street) is a common way for Cambodians to show affection and friendship. Such displays of affection are likely nonsexual in nature. Volunteers who are accustomed to being part of a vibrant gay community in the United States may not receive acceptance or support to which they are accustomed by members in the community at the rural sites. They can expect to find significant support within the Peace Corps community, including from staff and fellow Volunteers, and there are established LGBTQIA+ organizations in Phnom Penh, as well as visible LGBTQIA+ communities in several of the larger cities in Cambodia.
Serving as a Volunteer with a Disability
Volunteers with disabilities may face physical, social, and attitudinal barriers while in service. While disability-related resources and organizations exist in Cambodia, the concept of disability awareness, rights, and accommodation is not as widely understood in many communities as it is in the U.S. Volunteers may face negative assumptions regarding their ability to perform their service with or without an accommodation. Disabled volunteers may experience direct commentary regarding their disability that would generally be deemed inappropriate or offensive in a U.S. context. Peace Corps staff is committed to working with Volunteers with disabilities to explore accommodation options and to help each individual best navigate Cambodian views on disabilities and the realities, in order so that disabled Volunteers can have a positive and impactful experience. For additional support, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].
Serving as a Volunteer Couple
Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to change their roles to conform better with traditional relationships in-country. Host country nationals may find American relationship dynamics and gender roles to be a significant cultural difference that may be challenging for them to bridge.. 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. It will be important for you to consider how your partner or opposite sex is being affected by traditional or different cultural norms. Discuss what, if any, aspects of your relationship should be adjusted and can help reduce stress for you both. Peace Corps Cambodia has hosted same sex couples in the past. Staff will work with same sex couples to help support them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
Serving as a Volunteer of Faith
Over 95% of the population in Cambodia practices Theravada Buddhism, the official religion. Around 2% of Cambodians (about 300,000) are Muslim, most of whom are Sunni Muslims in the Cham and Malay minorities. About 1% of the population identifies as Christian. Cambodia generally has a high degree of tolerance for religious differences. Buddhist temples can be found everywhere in Cambodia and are key centers of community life. However, churches and mosques are also present in cities and towns. Peace Corps staff can provide guidance to Trainees and Volunteers who want to know more about how and where to access places of worship during PST and in their host communities during service. It is unlikely that any religious issues will arise, unless a Volunteer breaks Peace Corps’ rule against proselytizing. While tolerated, atheism may not be conceptually understood in communities where Volunteers serve.
Serving as a 50+ Volunteer
Older Volunteers may find their age to be an asset in-country and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers. However, pre-service training can be particularly stressful for older trainees, whose lifelong learning styles may or may not lend themselves to the training techniques that are used. A 50+ individual may be one of the only older people in a group of Volunteers and initially may not feel part of the Volunteer group. Some 50+ Volunteers may find it difficult to adapt to a lack of structure and clarity in their role if they have worked for many years in a very structured and demanding job.
Cambodian government workers are subject to a mandatory retirement age of 55, so Volunteers over that age will find that most, if not all, of their Cambodian co-workers will be younger than they are. Cambodians give great respect and importance to senior family members, and older Volunteers often receive similar deference and respect, though this does not necessarily translate to greater respect for their professional competence or technical knowledge. Since Cambodian culture is generally oriented to indirect communication, you may experience positive verbal or non-verbal feedback at times when they do not want to offend you with direct comments or criticism. This is often magnified when combined with the cultural importance of deference paid to elders. Training provided at pre-service training is designed to prepare you to navigate these cultural dynamics.