Diversity Training for PC Staff in Tanzania
May 19, 2006
– a Former PC Volunteer
In February, Peace Corps/Tanzania’s Peer Support and Diversity Network (PSDN) held a successful training for Peace Corps staff. PSDN is a volunteer-run organization that was founded in June 2005 and based on the structure of similar groups in neighboring Peace Corps countries. PSDN trains interested Peace Corps volunteers to become “peer supporters,” who are then utilized by their fellow volunteers for emotional support. Because Peace Corps service can be especially stressful for PCVs from diverse backgrounds, PSDN has focused extensively on diversity trainings. The February staff training was one example of PSDN’s efforts.
A highlight of the two-day staff training was a panel discussion in which PCVs from a variety of ethnic, religious, and sexual orientation backgrounds talked about their experiences. Four volunteers identifying themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual were among the panelists who shared their stories.
Many of the volunteers on the diversity panel were nervous about “coming out” to the approximately thirty staff members who attended the training. While PCVs work closely with those who attended, the panel was the first time that many of them had shared something so deeply personal with Peace Corps staff members. Most of the trainings participants were Tanzanian and in Tanzania, like in many Peace Corps countries, homosexuality is illegal.
After each panelist had talked for five or ten minutes, facilitators opened the floor for questions. Nervousness and fears about the staff’s reaction on the part of the panelists were instantly alleviated. As one peer supporter wrote “the members of the panel were suddenly flooded with thoughtful and sincere questions and comments from the staff, which were nearly all prefaced with heartfelt thanks for the panelists in regard to their honesty and courage in regards to sharing their stories. The staff’s response was overwhelmingly positive, with many questions concerning sexuality as it is something many of the Tanzanian staff members openly admitted to having limited knowledge and information on.”
The staff’s questions were thoughtful and varied. Some asked about the panelists experiences in America (what it was like to come out to family, etc.), while others asked if panelists thought being gay, lesbian, or bisexual was a choice or biologically determined. The staff wondered if the PCVs on the panel wanted children and when they realized they were “different”. The training participants were split up into small groups, each headed by a PCV on the panel. This enabled all involved to discuss diversity issues in a less formal, but more intimate, way.
The training ended with an exchange of ideas lead by the staff participants. PCVs and staff brainstormed ways staff could better help to support volunteers from diverse backgrounds. When feedback was collected from the staff and PCVs on the panel, the sentiments expressed were overwhelming positive. Everyone who participated in the training felt empowered.
PSDN looks forward to continuing a dialogue with staff regarding diversity and to providing staff with resources and knowledge to enable them to support volunteers in the field. PSDN members and staff share the goal of ensuring all volunteers have a positive and productive Peace Corps service. Building on the success of the February training will make this more possible than ever before.
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