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Navigating Identities in Guyana

Peace Corps’ Intercultural Competence, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (ICDEIA) approach seeks to reflect and support the diversity of the United States through its staff and Volunteers, who represent a broad collection of social identities, including race, ethnicity, color, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, marital status, and socioeconomic status, among others.

How might a Volunteer’s social identities impact their service?

The information below provides additional context about how different social identity groups may experience service and what types of ICDEIA-related support you can expect from the Peace Corps.

Accessibility and disability considerations

As a Volunteer with disabilities in Guyana, you may face a unique set of challenges. In Guyana, as in other parts of the world, some people hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with visible physical disabilities and may discriminate against them. There is very little infrastructure, like ramps, railings, and elevators, needed to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities compared to those in the United States. However, staff are committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations for Volunteer success.

Gender role considerations

Gender roles in Guyana may be seen as significantly different from those in the United States, and to be effective in your project and satisfied personally, it is crucial to understand these roles. While women seem to have tremendous influence in communities, civil society, and private sector in Guyana and are often considered to be the backbone of community development efforts, in some instances, gender and gender role still have significant impact in society.

In most communities across Guyana, gender roles are strongly defined. Women generally have traditional responsibilities that center around the home. These include caring for the family, cleaning the home, taking care of the children, and working long hours to prepare food from scratch.

Men and women are expected to fulfill distinct roles and responsibilities. In rural areas, women and Volunteers presenting as women may find conservative attitudes regarding gender equality. Likewise, the behavior of women Volunteers is more often scrutinized or criticized by host communities than that of men. Volunteers who present as women may find that they are constantly asked about their marital status and whether they have children because women of a certain age are expected to be married. Although it is unusual for a man to try to touch a woman, women might experience whistles, cat calls relating to a woman’s looks, or ask for a date or sex. White women or women who appear to be not local may experience unwanted attention, because they are visible and due to stereotypes or perceptions of them being liberal (sometimes interpreted in the local context as being promiscuous) in male-female relationships.

LGBTQI+ considerations

Same-sex intercourse and cross-dressing have been illegal in Guyana since the beginning of the country's colonial era to the present.

It is suggested that LGBTQI+ Volunteers explore the safety and integration implications (with the support of staff if needed) prior to sharing this part of their identity with community members. Volunteers have told staff that they feel they can be open with other Volunteers and staff, and that they are able to identify support mechanisms and networks outside of their host community.

Generally speaking, in the rural and small towns where Volunteers work and live, there is limited understanding of expressions of gender identities other than cisgender. Similarly, while diversity of sexual orientations may be more understood in these communities, there is little acceptance of same-sex relationships. LGBTQI+ youth in some communities may face discrimination and bullying.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

It is essential to acknowledge that some Guyanese may not be aware of the racial diversity in the United States due to limited exposure. Volunteers in Guyana may receive different responses to their skin color, ranging from being mistaken for a Guyanese to being questioned about their U.S. citizenship. They may also face different behavior and language expectations or even ridicule. However, in some cases, Volunteers may have the advantage of negotiating better prices for goods and services.

These situations can serve as an opportunity for both Volunteers and Guyanese to learn from each other. It is essential for all Volunteers to be aware of the issues of race and ethnicity embedded in both American and Guyanese culture and to work together to create a positive and inclusive environment.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers: American Volunteers of Asian descent may not be viewed as Americans in Guyana. It is common for all people of East Asian descent to be referred to as “Chinese” and be called “China/Chino/Chinee” or identify them as one of our six people “Guyanese Chinee”. Microaggressions around martial arts abilities or language/accent may be common. Volunteers of South Asian and Pacific Island descent may also experience microaggressions and may not be initially viewed as Americans. People of Asian descent have a reputation in the Guyana for being business owners.

Black/African American Volunteers: Some Black Volunteers find they blend in and may be presumed to be Guyanese, while others do not and may be presumed to be from other countries in the Caribbean, including Haiti. This is more common for individuals with darker/deeper skin tones. Those who may be mistaken as Guyanese may receive less unwanted attention as compared to other Volunteers, but unwanted attention as a whole generally affects all Volunteers and their service. Local community members may not believe that they are American or may consistently ask where their family is from. Due to Guyana’s own history within its diverse population, Volunteers will likely observe frequent acts of racism and/or colorism, especially towards people of African descent. Staff are ready to support Volunteers should this challenge arise.

Latino/Hispanic Volunteers: Due to the huge immigrant population from Cuba, Venezuela or Columbia, there has been increasing acts of hostile treatment towards these groups of people. Some of the challenges stem from the boarder controversy between Guyana and Venezuela. Volunteers who identify as Latinos may experience stereotypes of being provocative or into prostitution. Even though a large population of the Latino/Hispanic populations are Cuban doctors working within the health system.

White Volunteers: White Volunteers will likely experience privilege in many ways. Navigating this and being an ally to Volunteers and locals who may not have the same experience will be important as a Volunteer. One such privilege may be not having your U.S. citizenship questioned and automatically being assumed to be American, while many of your fellow Volunteers of color may experience the contrary. At the same time, White Volunteers may receive different types of unwanted attention because of this aspect of their identity.

Age considerations

Within the Guyanese culture, age is highly valued and thus, Volunteers who are considered to be 50+ may find their age an asset in-country and will often have access to individuals and insights that may not be available to their younger peers.

Over 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.

Elders in Guyanese communities are considered leaders and are often given great respect, though this can be challenging for Volunteers as they often feel like novices in their new environments. In addition, occasionally, Guyanese will assume that an older Volunteer is an immediate “expert” in their field, which can be a blessing and a curse.

Religious considerations

The three major religions in Guyana are Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. Guyana’s major Christian churches include Methodist, the Assemblies of God, Anglican, Apostolic, Church of Christ, Seventh-day Adventist, Presbyterian, and Catholic. Regardless of the belief systems, it is essential for Volunteers to understand the role faith plays in people’s lives.

Wherever Volunteers are assigned within Guyana, it is essential for Volunteers to understand and respect the importance that religion holds in the lives of Guyanese.

Volunteers who show respect for local beliefs are more likely to be accepted into the homes and lives of the members of their new community.

Volunteers will have to be patient when some Guyanese feel it is their duty to “convert” you to their religion even though they may think they aren’t doing such things. Some Volunteers find this issue one of the most frustrating and while others have been able to explain that they are not religious or have other religions.

Others find that attending religious observances, as a cultural behavior, can aid the integration process, and most Guyanese appreciate when Volunteer partake in their religious festivities.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

Couples often face pressure from community members to change their roles to conform better with traditional relationships in-country. Community members may find U.S. 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 to consider how your partner or opposite sex is being affected by traditional or different cultural norms. Discussing ahead of time what, if any, aspects of your relationship should be adjusted can help reduce stress.

Couples without children may be repeatedly questioned about why they do not have children, etc. Couples should prepare to respond to this question from the community before coming to post.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

Post has an established Diversity Inclusion and Support Committee, and its vision is to educate, include, and support a diverse Volunteer and staff population, and encourage an open dialogue about diversity and inclusivity in a multidimensional framework that incorporates Volunteers, trainees, staff, and community members.