One of the biggest markers for success in any organization is to not only be diverse but acknowledging and supporting those differences. Peace Corps, as a global organization has since it’s conception has made strides to stay current, be aware of the growing diversity within volunteers and support those who are in need of support.
One example of that was the approval of an affinity group within Peace Corps Nicaragua. An affinity group is a group of people who come together to safely share experiences around specific identity markers (such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, age, etc.). As a member of the Diversity Committee, we’ve seen and discussed the diversity that happens within our race, gender, sexual orientation and life experiences within Peace Corps. Unfortunately, that’s not always highlighted.
Our first affinity group was centered around race and how volunteers identify. We hope to have more in the future around sexual orientation, class, religion and even more. It was hard to plan and a lot of time and effort went into the invitation, the activities, and the overall spirit of the event but in the end, it was worth it. It was a huge success. We started with an icebreaker called, “What I want You To Know.” Each identity group had to write on a flip chart: 1. What we want you to know about our group, 2. What we never want to see, hear or experience again as a member of this group, 3. What we want our allies to do. Here’s an example of what the black female group wrote because there was no black male in attendance.
After that, we created norms/rules to govern the conversations and interactions for the entire day and every affinity group we’d have in the future. Of the rules, my favorite was “send love” and “address not attack”. We defined words and acknowledged the purpose before getting into reflection activities. Separately, each identity group discussed 4 topics: Identity, Discrimination, Ally, and Support. We asked questions like how they identify, what experiences led them to that identity marker, what the word ally means, what does support look and feel like within Peace Corps. After that, we had lunch together and overall relaxed, even more, getting to know one another. After lunch, we came together as one group and discussed the difference answers from each question. Then we created an action plan from the answers. If this is what you need to feel supported, what can Peace Corps do and what can you do as a volunteer? We invited two Headquarter representatives who were in Nicaragua to lead staff through a week-long long diversity training, to attend the action planning. It was great to share ideas and come together with an actual plan to propose to PC Nicaragua and PC as a whole. Afterward, one young lady brought her keyboard and sung Hello – Adele, Change is Going to Coe – Sam Cook, Woman’s Worth – Alicia Keys and more. We sang along and ended the day with greater bonds than we had before the event.
I am overwhelming proud of those who attended and thankful that my voice was used as a change agent. I am so proud of everyone who showed up and all the voices we heard. I am proud of my agency and I am proud to have been here to see the beauty in so many volunteers feeling heard, supported and empowered. Peace Corps’ main purpose is to promote peace and friendship between host country nationals and the United States. I don’t know a better way to do that than to acknowledge the differences amongst Americans, learn about the different cultures and share it with every Nicaraguan we encounter.