Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Lesotho

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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.


Overview of Diversity in Lesotho

Perhaps because Lesotho is rooted in the fusion of a variety of tribes and traditions, Basotho culture tends to emphasize conformity over diversity. The size, complexity, and diversity of American culture continue to surprise many Basotho.

Although apartheid is officially a policy of the past, and there have been great changes in neighboring South Africa, its history continues to influence the region. Many Basotho have experienced the now defunct apartheid system. Hence, relations between certain Basotho and any white person can be, at first, somewhat strained. For the most part, however, Basotho differentiate quite readily between white Volunteers and other whites in the region. Foreigners are generally perceived as guests and treated with respect and care. Basotho also enjoy good relations with large numbers of their white South African neighbors.

To ease the transition and adapt to life in Lesotho, 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.

What Might a Volunteer Face?

Possible Issues for Female Volunteers

Lesotho is mostly an agrarian and traditional place, and specific gender roles are still significant in Basotho culture. Women may be expected to fulfill certain domestic duties that are not expected of men. Women may be expected to defer to men in a workplace setting. Additionally, women may receive marriage proposals, professions of love, and other unwanted attention from men. Also, be aware that the only Basotho women who go into bars are prostitutes, so if you go into a bar, expect to be propositioned. It's best to buy alcohol at a hotel in a town and take it to your home to drink in private.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color

It continues to surprise some rural Basotho that Peace Corps Volunteers are people of many different complexions and appearances. Although Basotho are generally quick to accept and support Volunteers of color, historical social divisions based on color and features may still influence a Volunteer’s experience.

African-American Volunteers report that they may be expected to learn the language faster, may be expected to understand or agree with all aspects of the culture, and may be seen as less knowledgeable than white Volunteers. Volunteers of color also say it may be easier to form close and lasting friendships and to gain community support. African-American Volunteers may find that their features, color, cultural attitudes, or language make it obvious to Basotho they are not southern Africans. Until they make close acquaintances and friendships, some African-American Volunteers may feel like outsiders.

Over the past few years, a sizable number of Asians have opened manufacturing establishments and retail businesses in Lesotho. There have been Asian business people in Lesotho for many years, and most get along well with Basotho. However, the business practices of some recently arrived Asians have resulted in negative feelings among some Basotho. There were incidents of looting and personal violence against Asians in May 1991. Asian-American Volunteers are sometimes confused with other Asians and may feel less than fully accepted when traveling among strangers in Lesotho. At their sites, however, Volunteers have found acceptance and good relations develop quickly.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers

Senior Volunteers can expect to be treated with high regard. Senior women are likely to encounter less harassment than younger female Volunteers. Seniors often take precedence for seating on public transportation. Younger Volunteers often look to senior Volunteers for guidance and support.

Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers

Being gay or lesbian is not culturally acceptable in Lesotho, so people do not usually express this sexual orientation openly.

Volunteers have had to be very discreet about their sexual orientation because if they openly express themselves it can become a security issue. Some Volunteers serving in Lesotho choose to be “out” in the Peace Corps community but not in the Basotho community. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers may feel alone and lacking in support from other gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals. The Peace Corps medical officer is available to provide any needed support.

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers

The general perception in Lesotho is that American Volunteers belong to a Christian denomination. There may be an initial expectation that a Volunteer will attend a local church; however, most Volunteers find their communities to be accepting of personal choices in religious matters.

Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities

As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Lesotho without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of service. The Peace Corps/Lesotho staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.

Possible Issues for Married Volunteers

Married couples serving 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. In a new culture, married women may be expected to perform certain domestic chores, and find themselves in a less independent role than they are accustomed to. Married men may feel pressure to act as the dominant member in the relationship and make decisions apart from his wife’s views. Some spouses experience differing levels of language ability, acceptance by their community, or job satisfaction.

Each of you will have specific job assignments that may require you to travel without your spouse during training and throughout your service.

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