Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Botswana
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 Botswana, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Botswana.
Outside larger cities and towns in Botswana, residents of rural communities may 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 Botswana 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 Botswana, 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 Botswana
- 2 What Might a Volunteer Face?
Overview of Diversity in Botswana
The Peace Corps staff in Botswana recognizes the 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
To address restrictive laws and traditions of its society, Botswana has a constitution that protects women’s rights.
The country has made great strides in gender equity in the modern sector, and ministerial, senior-level government, and private-sector posts are held by women. In addition, the government has developed a national gender program to improve the lives of vulnerable women. Nevertheless, rural, less educated women at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale tend to have less authority and responsibility than men do for income, spending, and reproductive health. Although this is changing, many rural communities have not had much experience with women who take on professional roles, remain unmarried, and live away from their families. Thus, female Volunteers may experience a great deal of unwanted attention and may need to practice discretion in public. During both cross-cultural and safety training sessions, all Volunteers are provided with strategies and practice in limiting and responding to unwanted attention.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Most Batswana in cities and towns are aware of the different racial and ethnic groups that exist in the United States. However, this level of knowledge and understanding greatly diminishes among rural populations. African-American Volunteers may not be recognized as Americans. They may be expected to learn local languages more quickly than other Volunteers, may be accepted more readily into the culture than other Volunteers, and may be treated according to local social norms because they are assumed to be African.
Hispanic American and Asian-American Volunteers may also be perceived as not being American. Batswana may expect Asian Americans to exhibit stereotyped behavior observed in films, sometimes referred to as the “kung fu syndrome.” In addition, the presence of Asian merchants in the country may have an impact on how Asian-American Volunteers are perceived.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
In Botswana, older members of society are viewed and treated with a great deal of respect. Issues for older Volunteers are more likely to be in relation to their younger fellow Volunteers. Older Volunteers may meet individuals in the Peace Corps community who have little understanding of or respect for the lives and experiences of senior Americans and may not be able to offer the necessary personal support. Older Volunteers, in turn, may be inclined to withdraw from full participation in order to “give the younger folks their turn,” and may be reluctant to share personal, sexual, or health concerns. They may not find appropriate role models among the Peace Corps staff or may find that younger Volunteers look to them for more advice than they feel comfortable giving. Finally, older Volunteers may need to be assertive about asking for an effective individual approach to language learning during pre-service training.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
In general, Botswana view homosexuality as immoral; it is illegal according to the country’s constitution. Homosexuality certainly exists in Botswana but not with the same level of acceptance as in the United States. Because of cultural norms, homosexual Volunteers may discover that they cannot be open about their sexual orientation and have to serve for two years without revealing to their community that they are gay. Homosexual or bisexual Volunteers may also serve for two years without meeting another homosexual or bisexual Volunteer. Lesbians, like all American women, are likely to have to deal with constant questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex, while gay men may have to deal with machismo: talk of sexual conquests, girl watching, and dirty jokes.
See also: Articles about Botswana on the National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Peace Corps Alumni Association website at http://www.lgbrpcv.org/articles.htm
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Most Batswana have some religious affiliation, and many attend church regularly. Both Christian and non-Christian Volunteers may be expected to attend church with the members of their community. They may be asked to explain why they do not belong to a certain Christian denomination or may be actively recruited by a Christian group. Volunteers may not be able to adequately convey their own religious beliefs because of language or cultural barriers. This kind of doing is exactly what Batswana are doing and they are influenced by that.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
There is very little infrastructure in Botswana to accommodate individuals with disabilities. Disabled Volunteers may find living in rural communities particularly challenging. Nevertheless, the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable of performing a full tour of Volunteer service in Botswana without unreasonable risk to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Botswana staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in projects, training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.