Diversity and cross-cultural issues in The Gambia
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see 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 years. 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 The Gambia, 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 The Gambia.
Outside of Banjul, 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 The Gambia are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you live may display a range of reactions to the cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in The Gambia, 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 your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
- 1 Overview of Diversity in The Gambia
- 2 What Might a Volunteer Face?
Overview of Diversity in The Gambia
The Peace Corps staff in The Gambia recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Gambian women, especially in rural areas, have very traditional roles. As a result, North American women may not be able to exercise the freedoms to which they are accustomed. In addition, it is common for women to receive stares, comments, and requests for dates or sex. Female Volunteers develop a variety of creative strategies to handle these situations (as do male Volunteers who do not conform to the machismo image expected of them).
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Gambians may expect African-American Volunteers to learn languages and adapt to the culture quicker than other Volunteers. African Americans may also sometimes be mistaken for Africans and may experience impatience on the part of Gambians when they do not demonstrate expected behavior. Asian, Arab, and Hispanic Americans may also be associated with their ancestral origins rather than their American nationality. It is helpful to remember that these reactions come from a simple lack of understanding and that they afford an opportunity to tell Gambians more about the diversity of America.
Volunteers of color may feel some isolation within the Volunteer community because other Volunteers lack knowledge of diversity issues in the United States.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Older individuals are highly respected in The Gambia, which is certainly a plus. But with this respect comes the expectation that senior Volunteers will have relatively more knowledge and experience. Because acquisition of a new language is often more difficult for seniors, they may become frustrated with difficulties in communicating ideas important to them and may need to be assertive in developing an effective individual approach to language learning. In addition, some older Volunteers find pre-service training to be physically challenging.
Because the vast majority of Volunteers in The Gambia are young, older Volunteers sometimes feel isolated within the Volunteer community. Peace Corps/The Gambia is sensitive to this issue and takes it into consideration when placing senior Volunteers. Seniors sometimes are sought out by younger members of the Volunteer community for advice, and while some enjoy the role of mentor, others would rather not fulfill this role.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
The Gambia is conservative by U.S. standards, and many Gambians disapprove of homosexuality. Because of these beliefs, gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers have not been able to be open about their sexual orientation. However, Peace Corps/The Gambia provides an open and supportive atmosphere for gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers.
See also: Articles about The Gambia on the National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Peace Corps Alumni Association website at http://www.lgbrpcv.org/articles.htm
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
The Gambia is overwhelmingly Muslim, with a small Christian minority. Although most Gambians have little knowledge of other religions, there is a high degree of religious tolerance in the country. Occasionally, a Gambian friend may encourage you to explore or convert to Islam.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
The accommodations that make life more manageable for those with disabilities in the United States are absent in The Gambia, so certain aspects of everyday life can be extremely difficult. Nevertheless, Gambians are very accepting of people with disabilities.
However, as part of the medical clearance process, the Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodation, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in The Gambia without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/The Gambia staff will work with any disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.