Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Morocco
In fulfilling the Peace Corpsâ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of Americaâs richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in todayâs 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 Corpsâ 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 Morocco, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteersâ 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 Morocco.
Outside of Moroccoâs 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 Morocco 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 Morocco, 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.
The Peace Corps staff in Morocco recognizes the challenges and adjustment issues that come with diversity and endeavors to provide meaningful support and guidance. Peace Corps/ Morocco has a working group of Volunteers representing American diversity tasked with sharing, documenting and presenting their experiences to Peace Corps staff and Volunteers in order to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges that they have faced. This group is also developing materials that can be used by all Volunteers to educate Moroccans about the diversity of Americans.
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.
With more and more people from other countries visiting Morocco, people in your community may initially think you are a tourist. It will take time and patience to help people in your community understand who you are, why you have come and that you plan to stay for more than a few days. Many Moroccans find it hard to believe that Americans would altruistically and voluntarily donate two years of their lives to assist the people of another country. Because the concept of volunteerism is not readily understood, you may be suspected of being an agent for the intelligence-gathering community. Alternatively, you may be perceived as someone who is still doing research to complete a degree rather than someone who is already technically competent.
Another potentially problematic area is politics. Any public expression of opinion by Volunteers on issues considered political or controversial in Morocco could seriously compromise their effectiveness and that of the Peace Corps program. Whatever your views, for instance, with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict or the political status of the Western Sahara, the Peace Corpsâ policy is that you should not make public statements of any kind on these or similar matters during your service in Morocco.
The information below is intended to stimulate thought and discussion and may or may not be relevant to your own Volunteer experience. It is included here to make all Volunteers aware of issues that one group or another may have to deal with.
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Morocco has a traditional, patriarchal culture. While Moroccan women are gaining more authority in society, there are still few women in top positions in government or in the private sector. Women tend to live with their families until they get married. Thus, female Volunteers can play an important role in modeling to their communities behavior that demonstrates the additional capabilities of women. Indeed, gender and development activities are an integral part of the Peace Corpsâ programming in Morocco.
Female Volunteers may find that a single woman living alone goes against the cultural norms of her community. Besides receiving more unwanted and inappropriate attention from Moroccan men than American men, female Volunteers may also have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the professional respect of colleagues in the workplace. Finally, the Peace Corps encourages female Volunteers to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public (e.g., not smoking in public or drinking in bars) to avoid developing an undesirable reputation.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Moroccans are a diverse people in many ways, including appearance. The socio-cultural relationships among Moroccans of lighter and darker hue ranges from apparent tolerance and integration to overt, although non-threatening, racism. As a result, it is impossible to predict what a Volunteer of Color may experience, initially, in their community. Once the Volunteer becomes established, however, undesirable attitudes and behaviors tend to subside and acceptance and a very positive experience is the norm.
As a Volunteer of Color, you may be the only minority trainee or Volunteer within a particular project. You may feel that you do not receive the personal support you need from other Volunteers, or you may not find minority role models among the local Peace Corps staff. All Volunteers do, however, participate in diversity training as part of their pre-service training and Peace Corps/Morocco staff are prepared to do all they can to provide support to all Volunteers.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
During training and at their sites, senior Volunteers may face challenges solely due to age. Since the majority of Volunteers are in their 20s, you will work and live with individuals in the Peace Corps community who may have little understanding of or respect for the lives and experiences of seniors. Your interactions with Peace Corps staff may also be different from that of younger Volunteers. You may be reluctant to share personal, sexual, or health concerns with the staff. You may also find that younger Volunteers look to you for advice and support. While some seniors find this to be a very enjoyable part of their Volunteer experience, others choose not to fill this role. The logistics of dealing with family emergencies, maintaining lifelong friendships, and managing financial matters from afar may be more problematic for older Volunteers than younger Volunteers.
Training may present its own special challenges. Older trainees may encounter a lack of attention to their specific needs for an effective learning environment. You may need to be assertive in developing an effective individual approach to language learning.
There are benefits to being older. Respect comes with age in Morocco, and a younger Volunteer is likely to have to work much harder than an older colleague to be accepted as a professional.
Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
While married couples come with a built-in support system, they may face challenges that single Volunteers do not face. If you are a married couple, you will be training in the same Community Based Training site and living with the same host family. Couples should consider how varying degrees of enthusiasm about Peace Corps service, adaptation to the physical or cultural environment, or homesickness will affect their lives. A husband and wife may also face changed marital roles resulting from Moroccan societal expectations. A married man may be encouraged to take on a more dominant public role in the relationship, while a married woman may find herself in a less independent role than she is accustomed to. This can create tensions for a couple both at work (e.g., a wife being expected to perform traditional domestic chores instead of working) and at home (e.g., a husband being ridiculed for performing domestic tasks or for refusing to have extramarital affairs). Finally, coping with competition (e.g., one spouse learning faster than the other) or differences in job satisfaction may also be challenging.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Moroccans are generally very tolerant of religious and ethnic differences, and may or may not ask you about your religious beliefs. Since Morocco is a Muslim country, public profession of oneâs Jewish faith, such as wearing a yarmulke, could result in tension with Moroccan counterparts. Volunteers should also be aware that the Jewish community in Morocco is small and there are very few synagogues at which to worship.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Morocco, you will face a special set of challenges. There is very little infrastructure to accommodate people with disabilities in Morocco. There are no ramps in public places, and roads and sidewalks are uneven or otherwise in poor condition. 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 Morocco without unreasonable risk to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Morocco will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, and job sites to enable them to serve safely and effectively.