Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Chad

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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 Chad, 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 Chad.

Outside of Chad’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. Foreigners appreciate the generous hospitality of the people of Chad; 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 Chad, 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.

Overview of Diversity in Chad

The Peace Corps staff in Chad 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

Women’s roles are very distinct in Chadian culture. Women are charged with caring for the family and work long, hard hours to prepare food, obtain water, and rear children. In addition, women do not enjoy the same level of equality as most women in the United States do. Few are educated—only 11 percent of women are literate—and very few hold responsible positions in government or other organizations.

Many men have several wives. In strict Muslim households, especially in the western part of the country, women are sometimes cloistered, i.e., required to stay in their homes unless accompanied by their husband. Certain tasks, including pounding millet and drawing water, are considered exclusively women’s work and are not done by men. These cultural practices can be shocking to Volunteers. However, almost all find that they can work successfully with both women and men in Chad.

Female Volunteers have much more freedom than Chadian women and are not expected to strictly adhere to gender roles. This provides them with a unique perspective on Chadian life. As foreign women, they are allowed to participate in both male and female activities, whereas male Volunteers are limited to socializing only with other men. This does not mean, however, that female Volunteers are entirely free of expected gender roles. Although a female Volunteer is more accepted by men, she is still a woman and therefore considered different.

Chadian women usually marry between the ages of 13 and 18, unless they reside in cities. As a single woman living alone in a community, you may be approached by men who wish to court or date you. But there is less need for concern regarding sexual harassment or assault in Chad than in some other countries. Chadian culture greatly minimizes physical contact because of the influence of Islam, and the chief of a village will look out for a female as he would a daughter. Nevertheless, it is important to keep your relations as platonic as possible to ensure good working relationships with people in your community.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color

People of color may confront special challenges in Chad. One of the most common is being mistaken for someone from your race’s or ethnic group’s country of origin. Along with this, Chadians may not believe that you are a U.S. citizen, as the majority of people from the United States they have seen or heard about are of European descent.

African-American Volunteers have found that being black in Africa has certain advantages as well as challenges. You may be more easily accepted by your community, since you may not be visibly different and thereby blend in more. However, villagers’ expectations may be higher because of your race. They may expect you to be more like them and not afford you the same allowances in language learning and cultural adaptation that they grant to your Caucasian peers. In public places you may be taken for a Chadian and thus expected to conform to cultural norms, such as the Muslim dress code for women. Some African-American Volunteers have struggled with being told by their villagers that they are not truly black.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers

There have been Volunteers over 40 in Chad. The Peace Corps welcomes the experience and special skills of older Volunteers. Like others, you should be prepared for the harsh climate and basic living conditions, and need to take special care of your health because of the lack of medical facilities in Chadian villages. Because there are so few older Volunteers in Chad, you may find yourself missing the company of people of similar age.

Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers

Chadian culture has been described as homophobic, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers may find that hard. Because of the negative attitudes regarding homosexuality, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a positive working relationship with villagers and be open about your sexual orientation. You are likely to find a support system within the Volunteer group, but you are unlikely to be able to be open outside that circle. Visit www.lgbrpcv.org for further information on serving as a gay, lesbian, or bisexual Volunteer.

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers

Chadians may ask you about your religious affiliation or invite you to attend a community church. Volunteers who are not in the practice of attending church may be challenged to explain their reluctance, but it is possible to politely decline if the church or religion is not one of your choice. Yet many Volunteers find that attending church with their friends is a great way to meet members of the community and develop friendships.

Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities

As a disabled Volunteer in Chad, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Chad, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. And there is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States. 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 Chad without unreasonable risk to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Chad 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.

Possible Issues for Married Volunteers

Married couples who serve together in the Peace Corps are in a unique situation. While they benefit from having a constant companion to provide support, they may have differing expectations of service. One spouse may be more enthusiastic, homesick, or adaptable than the other. Spouses often experience differing levels of language ability, acceptance by their community, or job satisfaction. A wife may be expected by Chadians to perform certain domestic chores and may find herself in a less independent role than she is accustomed to. A husband may feel cultural pressure to act as the dominant member in the relationship and to make decisions without considering his wife’s views.