Diversity and Inclusion
The Peace Corps seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the U.S. and bring a variety of 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.
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 different kinds of diversity in your host community and may need to make adjustments to successfully live and work in your community. 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 U.S. 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.
The roles that women play and the skills that women have in Cameroon are quite different from those of American women in general. Most often, the work responsibilities of female Volunteers in Cameroon are different from the roles of traditional Cameroonian women. Further, the attitudes and actions of some Cameroonian men, partly because of how American women have been portrayed in films and the general media, may be quite offensive to an American woman. Sometimes, the way women dress or carry themselves send signals of “availability.” Sometimes it seems as though a woman may have to prove, especially to Cameroonian women, that she is a “real” woman. At other times, a woman may need to prove, especially to men, that she is a respectable woman. Acceptable behavior and dress are very important means to help female Volunteers attain the level of respect they are seeking. These and other issues for women will be discussed during training, and strategies on how to maintain your own sense of self while being culturally sensitive will be explored.
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, from 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 often are expected to master languages and adapt culturally more quickly than other Volunteers. They sometimes may be mistaken for a host country national and some Cameroonians may not readily excuse or accommodate their lack of understanding or “correctness.” It also may be more difficult for Cameroonians to associate Asian Americans, Arab Americans or Hispanic Americans as being truly American. There may be stereotypes that Cameroonians associate with these groups on the basis of the person’s perceived ancestral origin rather than his or her nationality. This added difficulty can be moderated if one views it not as an offense, but as a lack of understanding and accepts the challenge to teach Cameroonians more about the diversity of the American population and the wonderful contributions that accrue from the differences in its composition. Volunteers of color sometimes may feel a sense of isolation within the Volunteer community, because some Americans, too, may not have been educated about diversity or experienced diversity in their home communities. Again, this can be an opportunity for these Volunteers to interact with, and help expand, their fellow Volunteers’ understanding of American diversity.
Possible Issues for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Ally (LGBTQA) Volunteers
LGBTQI+ Volunteers have served successfully in Cameroon and Peace Corps Cameroon actively supports staff and Volunteers of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Safe and successful service requires a clear understanding of the dynamic LGBTQI+ cultural, political, and social context of the country. The U.S. State Department provides the following guidance to LGBTQI+ travelers to Cameroon: "Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($35-$353). LGBTQI+ individuals face social stigmatization, harassment, and discrimination. Police and civilians may extort money from presumed LGBTQI+ individuals with the threat of exposure or arrest. Suspected members of the LGBTQI+ community have received anonymous threats by phone, text, and email.” In general, Cameroonian society views same-sex relationships as unnatural, immoral, and imported from the West. For safety and security reasons, LGBTQI+ Volunteers are asked not to disclose their identity. All Volunteers are asked to refrain from discussing the topic of LGBTQI+ rights with community members, given the risks of being suspected of being part of or supporting the LGBTQI+ community. Peace Corps Cameroon recognizes the challenges that having to withhold aspects of one’s identity may cause for Volunteers and are committed as staff to do our best to support all Volunteers and create safe spaces for LGBTQI+ Volunteers. Peace Corps Cameroon has a long-history of an active Peer Support Network that focuses on supporting Volunteers s in navigating social identity related challenges while serving in Cameroon.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
Peace Corps staff will work with disabled Volunteers to support them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
There are few spaces in Cameroon, including the capital, that have facilities to accommodate the needs of individuals with physical handicaps, visual or mobility impairment. Though Cameroonians are very accepting of people with disabilities, many of the accommodations one is accustomed to in the United States are absent here. Thus, everyday life would be difficult for people who depend on such accommodations.
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
In general, Cameroonians are familiar with most Christian and Muslim traditions but have little familiarity with Judaism, Buddhism, Unitarianism, and other world religions. Cameroon, however, is an ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse country and, as such, is tolerant of different religions. Cameroonians may not always agree with your beliefs, but it is unlikely that they will act negatively toward you because of them.
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.