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.
Cross-Cultural ConsiderationsThe 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?
Gender RolesIt 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.
In fulfilling its mandate to share the face of America with host countries, the Peace Corps is making special efforts to assure that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent history. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences. Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Paraguay, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Paraguay. Outside of Paraguay’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes.
The people of Paraguay are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present. To ease the transition and adapt to life in Paraguay, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own. Machismo manifests itself in obvious and subtle ways, and both Paraguayan men and women generally adhere to male dominance at work, in the home, and in community matters. Female Volunteers may be targets for harassment, particularly if they disregard norms for behavior and dress. Male Volunteers, on the other hand, may be viewed as sexual competitors and be pressured to discuss their “conquests.” Female Volunteers in Paraguay face the kinds of unwelcome attention from men that Paraguayan women experience. Some of this attention can be avoided by dressing and behaving in culturally appropriate, more conservative manners.
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.
Because of Paraguay’s general lack of experience with diverse ethnic groups, some Volunteers of color have encountered verbal harassment, especially in Asunción or when traveling away from their sites. African Americans are most often mistaken for Brazilians, and due to the commonly held Paraguayan stereotype of the Afro-Brazilian soldier who fought against Paraguay in the War of the Triple Alliance, Volunteers should be prepared to hear and receive negative remarks about skin color or hair. Asian-American Volunteers are often mistaken for Koreans or Japanese and may be questioned about whether they are “real Americans.” While Hispanic Volunteers may enjoy some advantages because of their ethnic background, they may also face irritating questions about their “true” nationality or their inability to speak the local languages of Spanish and Guaraní. As a Volunteer of color in Paraguay, you should be prepared to handle offensive remarks or attitudes, which stem primarily from ignorance and a lack of direct contact with people of color. Once you become established in your community, such harassment will be less common, though you will probably continue to encounter it outside your site. In many cases, these incidents provide opportunities to educate people about America’s diversity. There are Volunteer support groups to address diversity issues in Peace Corps Paraguay.
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. Additionally, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].
LGB Volunteers should be aware that same-sex relationships are considered taboo by most Paraguayans and that they, therefore, must exercise discretion regarding their sexual orientation. Although Asunción has a cosmopolitan atmosphere, to develop productive social and professional relationships and for reasons of personal security and well-being, most Volunteers find that their communities are likely to be extremely conservative. LGB Volunteers have a support and resource network that can be of assistance.
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. For additional support, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].
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 VolunteersParaguay is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, and Paraguayans have little experience with other religions or with people who have no religious affiliation. While Paraguayans tend to be tolerant of non-Catholics, they may be curious about your beliefs, which could lead to seemingly rude behavior. On the whole, however, they recognize a difference between “belief” and “practice,” and some non-Catholic Volunteers simply state that they are not “practicing.” Those who feel uncomfortable skirting the issue in this way usually find that if they state their beliefs in a non-challenging way, they will be accepted by their community. Be aware that very few Volunteer sites will have a place of worship other than a Catholic Church or chapel. Jewish Volunteers have been surprised to discover a certain degree of anti-Semitism in Paraguay as a result of General Alfredo Stroessner’s open-border policy toward Nazis and World War II war criminals. It is not unusual to see swastikas and other ant-Semitic graffiti, and Jewish Volunteers should use caution when visiting German communities. It is also advisable to get to know the members of your community before “coming out” as Jewish. Kosher food products and religious paraphernalia are not available in Paraguay, but there is an active Chabad House and a Reform synagogue in Asunción.
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.