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.
Lesotho is mostly an agrarian and traditional place, and specific gender roles are still significant in Basotho culture. Women may be expected to fulfill certain domestic duties that are not expected of men. Women may be expected to defer to men in a workplace setting. Additionally, female Volunteers often receive marriage proposals, professions of love, and other unwanted attention from men. Some female Volunteers find this type of attention very difficult to handle. Peace Corps attempts to teach Volunteers coping mechanisms for dealing with these situations. While whistles and exclamations may be fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, abide by local cultural norms, and respond according to the training you will receive.
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.
It continues to surprise some rural Basotho that Peace Corps Volunteers are people of many different complexions and appearances. Although Basotho are generally quick to accept and support Volunteers of color, historical social divisions based on color and features may still influence a Volunteer’s experience. African-American Volunteers report that they may be expected to learn Sesotho faster, may be expected to understand or agree with all aspects of the culture, and may be seen as less knowledgeable than white Volunteers. Volunteers of color also say it may be easier to form close and lasting friendships and to gain community support. African-American Volunteers may find that their features, color, cultural attitudes, or language make it obvious to Basotho they are not southern Africans. Until they make close acquaintances and friendships, some African-American Volunteers may feel like outsiders. Over the past few years, a sizable number of Asians (mainly Chinese and Indians) have opened manufacturing establishments and retail businesses in Lesotho. There have been Asian business people in Lesotho for many years, and most get along well with Basotho. However, the business practices of some recently arrived Asians have resulted in negative feelings among some Basotho. There were incidents of looting and personal violence against Asians in May 1991. Asian-American Volunteers are sometimes confused with other Asians. Asian Volunteers, particularly women, have been harassed, especially in the larger cities of Lesotho. At their sites, however, Volunteers have found that acceptance and good relations develop quickly.
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.
Being LGB is not culturally acceptable in Lesotho, so in general people do not usually express this sexual orientation openly. Volunteers have had to be very discreet about their sexual orientation because if they openly express themselves it can become a security issue. Some Volunteers serving in Lesotho choose to be "out" in the Peace Corps community but not in the Basotho community. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers may feel alone and lacking support, however, the Peace Corps medical officer and Peace Corps/Lesotho’s peer support network are available to provide support.
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.
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 general perception in Lesotho is that American Volunteers belong to a Christian denomination. There may be an initial expectation that a Volunteer will attend a local church; however, most Volunteers find their communities to be accepting of personal choices in religious matters.
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.