Difference between revisions of "Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Mali"
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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 Mali, 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 Mali.
Outside of Mali’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 Caucasian. The people of Mali 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 Mali, 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.
- 1 Overview of Diversity in Mali
- 2 What Might a Volunteer Face?
Overview of Diversity in Mali
Trainees from less represented groups should come prepared to cope with being one of a few or possibly the only senior, African American, Native American, Hispanic American, Asian American, gay, or lesbian in their training group because the group of Volunteers in Mali is currently fairly homogenous: relatively young, Caucasian, and middle class. Yet Volunteers from less represented groups serve with the same high levels of effectiveness and satisfaction as other Volunteers.
The Peace Corps staff in Mali 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
Mali has a traditional, patriarchal society. Female Volunteers may be surprised by the extent to which community and domestic roles are defined along gender lines and how little control they have over this. Although women are becoming more visible, men generally hold positions of greater authority in the workplace, in the community, and in the home. This strong tradition can present challenges for female Volunteers, especially those in the agriculture and natural resource management projects, where they may be seen as taking on a typically “male” role. In addition, single women generally do not have the status and respect that come with marriage and motherhood. Thus, female Volunteers may find it challenging to have their ideas recognized and respected by both women and men.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Although Malian society can be conservative, Volunteers generally find Malians to be hospitable and accepting of people with a wide variety of backgrounds. Nevertheless, Malians may have preconceived notions of Americans based on the kind of information available in Mali about Westerners, which comes mainly from television, movies, magazines, and local news reports, which often represent a limited view of American diversity. For example, Asian Americans are often called Chinois (Chinese) regardless of their actual background, and African Americans may not be considered Americans.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Given their conservative values, homosexuality is not likely to be tolerated by the general Malian population. It will probably be impossible to be open about your sexual orientation and maintain a positive working relationship with members of your community. Other Volunteers and the Peace Corps staff will provide support, but you will find it very difficult to be open outside of that circle.
See also: Articles about Mali on the National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Peace Corps Alumni Association website at http://www.lgbrpcv.org/articles.htm Peace Corps recruiters can also send you a packet of helpful information.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
The high regard for seniors in Malian society lends support to senior Volunteers’ effectiveness at work. They, in turn, are able to find ways to use their extensive experience to assist their communities. However, seniors often comment that they feel a lack of camaraderie with other, mostly much younger, Volunteers. And the three months of pre-service training can be particularly frustrating for seniors because of the rigid schedule, classroom setting, and issues of integration with other trainees in the group. Language learning may present an additional challenge. However, most senior Volunteers find living and working at their sites to be very rewarding.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Volunteers do not report negative reactions from their Malian colleagues about their religious beliefs. The majority of Malians are generally very tolerant of religions other than Islam. Proselytizing by Volunteers is not permitted, and it is wise to avoid confrontations over religious issues.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Mali, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. There are few services available for people with disabilities and local support is likely to be inadequate to accommodate a physically challenged Volunteer.
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 Mali without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Mali staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.