Peace Corps Volunteer Breaks Down Stereotypes in Turkmenistan

In celebration of the 45th anniversary, this is the first in a series of features on diverse Peace Corps volunteers.

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 6, 2006 During his stay as a Peace Corps volunteer in Turkmenistan, Victor Galdamez was surprised that many locals believed him to be a native Turkmen.

"It was an eye-opening experience for me as well because people in Turkmenistan look just like people in Latin America; it was not what I expected," he said.

Yet, because of his heritage, Galdamezs presence in his community changed perceptions about the U.S. and Americans among the local people. The locals were initially surprised that Galdamez did not have blond hair and blue eyes traits they believed were prominent in all Americans.

Victor Galdamez
Volunteer Victor Galdamez teaches English to Turkmen students.
I had to lecture a teacher in my school about the history of the United States, and explain that not every single American is white, he said. I think that my presence in Turkmenistan really proved to the people in my village that Americans look different and are very diverse. Many of them now believe that America does not have a homogeneous population.

Galdamez, who completed his Peace Corps service in October, almost missed the opportunity to become a volunteer. Initially, some of his family and friends had mixed feelings about him joining the Peace Corps. A few even questioned his desire to live in a developing country, since he had been born and raised in one: El Salvador. However, by explaining that the Peace Corps provides medical coverage and an allowance to all volunteers, he was able to convince them that this was the right decision for him.

Along with teaching local children, Galdamez, an English teacher in a small village, also worked hard to gain trust among the people of his community an achievement many volunteers find to be the most beneficial aspect of their Peace Corps service.

Turkmen are very welcoming and hospitable people. [Because of my appearance] I think they never quite saw me as an American, but as one of them. I really relied on host country nationals, who were a source of unbending support. I was blessed to have wonderful counterparts at work and a caring host family, he said.

Galdamez believes that serving overseas is just as important as serving at poor, under-served Hispanic communities in, for example, South Central Los Angeles. Serving in Turkmenistan has equipped me with the outreach skills and courage to continue public service in under-served communities in the U.S., he said.

Based on his experience, Galdamez strongly urges other minorities to join the Peace Corps.

Serving overseas has taught me that people throughout the world have different needs and different ways to approach problems and solve them. Peace Corps service is a fascinating learning experience that challenges people with can-do attitudes to excel. It can do nothing but help you define who you are. Living two years overseas can only make employers think that you are reliable, adaptable, and mature, he said.

Upon closing his Peace Corps service, Galdamez spent time traveling through India and Thailand before returning to the U.S. Today, he is living in Los Angeles and job-hunting in the nonprofit sector.

A former republic of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan declared independence in October 1991. The Peace Corps has sent 493 volunteers to Turkmenistan since 1993. Today, 61 volunteers are serving in Turkmenistan, where they work on projects in the fields of education and health.

The Peace Corps is celebrating a 45 they work on projects in the fields of education and health.

The Peace Corps is celebrating a 45-year legacy of service at home and abroad, and a 30-year high for volunteers in the field. Since 1961, more than 182,000 volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 138 countries where volunteers have served. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.

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