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Navigating Identities in Jamaica

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

Staff are committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations and in fact many Volunteers living with a disability have served successfully in Jamaica.

Volunteers with disabilities may face a special set of challenges. In Jamaica, 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 of the infrastructure, like ramps, railings, and elevators, needed to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities compared to those in the United States.

Gender role considerations

Many Jamaicans have very strong opinions regarding binary gender-based duties and expectations.

Volunteers identifying and presenting as women may find that they are constantly asked about their marital status or whether they have children because women of a certain age are expected to be married.

Volunteers identifying or presenting as women may be propositioned on a daily basis or be subjected to sexual advances and unwanted attention. Volunteers identifying or presenting as men may also experience these advances but to a much lesser degree and usually in a less public way.

LGBTQI+ considerations

LGBTQI+ Volunteers have served successfully in Jamaica despite being a more restrictive culture with regard to sexual orientation and non-conforming gender identities.

Local law prohibits “sodomy/buggery” (regardless of the sexual orientation of the participants) and arrests of Jamaican men for this offense have occurred.

Some Jamaicans who identify as LGBTQI+ (or who were labeled as LGBTQI+) have experienced acts of violence. As a result, all Volunteers in Jamaica are encouraged to exercise extreme caution and discretion in the expression of any opinions or behaviors which conflict with local sentiments regarding sexual orientation or gender norms. This discretion may necessitate non-disclosure of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in many settings.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers: American volunteers of Asian descent may not be viewed as American in Jamaica. It is common for all people of East Asian descent to be referred to as “Chinese” due to Jamaican’s primary exposure to people of Asian descent being through the history of Chinese immigration dating back to the 1850’s. Asian Americans may also be referred to as “Mr. or Mrs. Chen” and be assumed to be shopkeepers or business owners.

Black/African American Volunteers: Black/African American Volunteers may experience a range of responses to their skin color: from being mistaken for a Jamaican, 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. Staff are ready to support Volunteers should this challenge arise.

Latinx/Hispanic Volunteers: Many Jamaicans have been exposed to Cuban and Dominican culture, but less so with other Latin American countries. Latinx/Hispanic Volunteers may be questioned about their American citizenship. Spanish is commonly taught in local schools as a second language and Volunteers who speak Spanish may find many people interested to practice and learn Spanish.

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 stand out more and receive different types of unwanted attention more often because of this aspect of their identity.

Age considerations

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.

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 structured job.

Elders in Jamaican communities are often given great respect and this can be challenging for Volunteers as they often feel like novices in their new environments.

Older Volunteers may need to be prepared to take special health precautions to ensure a healthy completion of service.

Religious considerations

Volunteers in Jamaica, a predominantly Christian nation, can expect many meetings and other events to begin with a prayer. They should also be prepared to be questioned by community members for not attending church.

Many Volunteers have noted that regardless of their religious orientation, attending church is one of the quickest and easiest ways to become integrated into a community, as many social interventions are organized and executed by the church.

Staff can guide Volunteers on how to establish boundaries with host families regarding attending religious events and generally, through communication, can overcome this challenge.

Volunteers will learn about the Rastafarian religion and associated cultural influence during training.

There are small Jewish, Hindu and Muslim populations in Jamaica, primarily concentrated in Kingston.

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 American relationship dynamics and gender roles to be a significant cultural difference that may be challenging for them to navigate.

If a couple is unmarried, they should have a good understanding of how they will respond when questioned about their relationship.

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

Peace Corps Jamaica has a staff-led DEIA Working Group that works to intentionally foster a more inclusive and equitable organizational culture within Peace Corps. The taskforce collaborates with and seeks input from Volunteers on various ICDEIA efforts from working to make training and programming more effective and appropriate to co-creating ideas to strengthen inclusion and belonging for Volunteers, staff, and host country partners.

Jamaica has an active support group, called Empress, with a mission to gather women-identifying and/or women-presenting Peace Corps Jamaica Volunteers in a safe, judgement-free environment to support, empower, and dialogue with each other in order to foster resilience in the face of gendered challenges during service.

Peace Corps Jamaica has a formal peer support network of Volunteers trained to provide one-on-one support and outreach. The goal of this network is to link Volunteers to resources be and assist with overall mental wellbeing and resilience.