Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Mozambique

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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 by Peace Corps Volunteers. 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 Mozambique, 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 Mozambique.

Outside of Mozambique’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 in some countries that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Mozambique 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 Mozambique, 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 Mozambique[edit]

Except for the few who work at development agencies, Mozambicans have had little exposure to Americans, especially those of color. The ideas Mozambicans have about Americans come mostly from the images they see in the media. As powerful and far-reaching as American media are, chances are good that even Mozambicans in remote areas have seen U.S. television programs. As a result, they may think most Americans are white, young, affluent, and promiscuous. Explaining repeatedly that American TV shows and films do not necessarily represent your lifestyle or values may test your patience, but it is worth persevering to break through the stereotyping and encourage your Mozambican colleagues and friends see you as a unique person with virtues and faults that have nothing to do with the media.

Peace Corps/Mozambique is firmly committed to supporting diversity in its program. The staff 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.

Within Peace Corps/Mozambique, Volunteers have established specific committees to help support one another in different areas of Volunteer life, including planning activities and events on the community, provincial, and country levels; collecting information and resources to assist all Volunteers in generating ideas and constructing projects; and acting as the voice of the Volunteers to the Peace Corps staff. These committees include: Volunteer Advisory Committee, Peer Support Network, Gender and Development Committee, Information and Resource Center Committee, Science Fair and English Theater Competition Committees, and others.

What Might a Volunteer Face?[edit]

Possible Issues for Female Volunteers[edit]

Mozambique’s long history of male labor migration, displaced communities, and wartime insecurity has led to a decline in the traditional values that used to offer support if marriages broke down. As a result, many Mozambican women throughout the country support their households alone. Although Mozambique’s Constitution provides for the equality of men and women, in reality women have the less-favored position legally, economically, and in custom. The culture of male-female relationships is very conservative, and there is very little public affection between males and females.

Learning to live and work in this environment can be challenging for female Volunteers, who are likely to experience some form of sexual harassment or have different expectations placed on them because they are women. Fewer than 10 percent of teachers at the secondary school level are women, fewer than 40 percent of secondary students are female, and even fewer women attend technical schools. In rural areas, where 80 percent of the population lives, women are engaged in subsistence farming and child rearing, and girls have less time for school. On the other hand, the majority of technicians, i.e., health educators, at health posts are female.

The independent lifestyles many women raised in the United States take for granted, such as living alone as a single woman, will often appear odd or as cause for medo (fear) or loneliness to Mozambicans. It is important to realize that they are not seeking to restrict your independence but are merely expressing concern and curiosity based on a different upbringing. You should be able to resolve the situation simply by explaining that this is the way you are used to living.

Another issue female Volunteers inevitably face in Mozambique is their immediate popularity with men. Female Volunteers quickly realize that “amigo” has an added connotation here and that they should not be surprised if every other bus driver falls in love with them in the course of a 30-minute drive. The hardest part of such situations is the defensive attitude they may provoke in you. If you can be abundantly clear about your intentions from the beginning, it will save you trouble in the end. You will need to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public (e.g., not drinking alone in bars) to avoid developing an undesirable reputation in your community.

Mozambicans are very generous, and the time you spend with Mozambican women will be endearing and enlightening. The friendships you form with women within your community and throughout Mozambique are sure to be a positive aspect of your time in Mozambique.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color[edit]

Mozambicans may expect Volunteers of color to learn local languages quicker than other Volunteers and may ask them what their tribal languages and customs are. Assumed to be Africans, black Americans may be treated according to local social norms, which can have both positive (e.g., being more readily accepted than other Volunteers) and negative aspects. African Americans may also be perceived as considering themselves superior to Africans.

Asian Americans may be assumed to be Chinese or Japanese nationals and may be asked if they are martial arts experts (a result of the kung fu videos shown throughout the country). Hispanic American Volunteers may be mistaken for Portuguese or called “el Cubano, Mexicano,” etc. They may not be considered real Americans.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers[edit]

In training, seniors may encounter frustration in having their needs met for an effective learning environment in areas such as timing, presentation, and style. They may need to be assertive in developing an effective individual approach to language learning.

Some seniors may feel left out socially among the group of younger trainees. Or they may find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support, an enjoyable experience for some seniors but not necessarily for all. In addition, seniors may not receive adequate support from younger Volunteers, who may have little understanding of the lives of seniors.

Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers[edit]

Although homosexuality is not illegal for adults in Mozambique (the legal age of sexual consent is 14 years), it is not widely accepted and rarely practiced publicly, especially outside the capital city Maputo. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers are thus not likely to be able to be open about their sexual orientation and are advised to keep their sexual behavior discreet.

Peace Corps/Mozambique has open gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers who are presently serving. Many of these Volunteers are open in discussing the ways in which sexual orientation relates to life here in Mozambique.

See also: Articles about Mozambique on the National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Peace Corps Alumni Association website at http://www.lgbrpcv.org/articles.htm

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers[edit]

An estimated 40 percent of Mozambicans are Muslims and approximately 40 percent are Christians, the latter divided equally between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Traditional African faiths are widespread and often combined with Christian or Muslim beliefs. The northern region is predominantly Muslim, while the central and southern regions where Volunteers serve are more diverse. Mozambicans are quite tolerant of religious differences, and there is little, if any, conflict among people of different faiths.

Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities[edit]

Disabled Volunteers in Mozambique face a special set of challenges. As in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. Additionally, there is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.

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 Mozambique without undue risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/Mozambique staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in housing and at work to enable them to serve safely and effectively.