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.
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.
Gender roles in Guyana are markedly different from those in the United States, and you will need to understand these roles to be effective in your project and satisfied personally. Guyanese women have traditional roles, especially in rural areas, where they run the household, prepare meals, clean, and raise children. In addition, some work in the fields, run small businesses, and care for farm animals. Young single women generally do not live by themselves. Those who do are often perceived as women who lack morals. Men also have specific roles and “manliness” is very important. Men are expected to be dominant in almost all aspects of society: They are expected to smoke, drink, pursue women, be strong, and discipline their wives and children. In Guyana, it is common for women, including Volunteers, to be verbally harassed by men on the streets. Although it is unusual for a man to try to touch a woman, he might whistle, make comments on a woman’s looks, or ask for a date or sex. North American women are targets because they are so visible and have a reputation of being liberal (sometimes interpreted in the local context as being promiscuous) in male-female relationships. Female Volunteers must learn to handle these situations and may have to accept certain constraints male Volunteers do not have to accept. Male Volunteers also encounter harassment, but much less frequently. If you do not drink, smoke, or like to pursue women openly, you may be kidded or chided for not being manly enough. Male Volunteers who cook, wash clothes or dishes, and clean the house often seem strange to their neighbors. Pre-service training will orient you to these local customs and gender roles.
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.
In Afro-Guyanese communities African-American Volunteers may be treated according to local social norms because it is assumed they are Afro-Guyanese. This can have both positive and negative outcomes. Within the Volunteer corps, you may be the only minority trainee or Volunteer in a particular project. Once you move to your site, you may work and live with individuals who have a limited or stereotypical understanding of the United States and its citizens. A Volunteer of color may not be perceived as being North American. A Volunteer with a Hispanic surname may be considered a citizen of a Latin American country rather than the United States. Likewise, a Volunteer of Asian descent is not likely to be perceived as being North American and may be called by ethnic names common in Guyana, such as “Chinese girl.” Out of ignorance or stereotyping, some people in your community may view you as less professionally competent than a white Volunteer. In any community where you are not known, you need to be prepared for staring, pointing, comments, and prejudice. Finally, you should be prepared to hear derogatory terms and racial epithets that would be completely inappropriate in the United States. In some cases, the terms may indeed be used in a derogatory manner, while in other cases the terms may be locally appropriate words that are not intended to hurt anyone’s feelings. Suggestions for how to respond to these issues will be provided during pre-service training. Both the Peace Corps staff and a peer support network of trained Volunteer counselors are available to provide support.
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.
One of the challenges for both lesbians and gay men is dealing with harassment by people of the opposite sex. Lesbians have to deal with questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex (as do all women). Gay men must deal with machismo, talk of conquests, girl watching, and dirty jokes. Also, it is important to note that AIDS is a critical issue in Guyana, and gay Americans are sometimes blamed for supposedly bringing the disease into South America. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers should be aware that they will not encounter the level of openness and acceptance that they may be accustomed to in the United States. They will need to be circumspect with Guyanese colleagues and community members about their sexual orientation. Volunteers who decide to reveal their sexual orientation often confide in the medical officer who has been a source of support for Volunteers. Peer support plays a critical role to Volunteers of diverse sexual orientations.
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.
That being said, Guyana is not an easy post for Volunteers with disabilities. Wheelchair ramps at building entrances and handrails along walkways, for example, are almost nonexistent. Elevators are few, and many do not work because of disrepair or lack of reliable electricity. Blind people have few resources upon which to rely.
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
The three major religions in Guyana are Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. Christian Volunteers may find it difficult to accept and work within the boundaries placed on personal behavior by non-Christian religions. For instance, a Hindu or Muslim woman’s tendency to be submissive or her unwillingness to be away from home for long periods can be hard to accept by Westerners. This situation may also pose challenges for Volunteers who want to organize women’s groups.
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.