Tag Archives: volunteering

Quoted: On Volunteering and Culture Shock

Peace Corps Ad

Once I arrived for my three-month training program in the small town of Santa Lucia Milpas Altas [Guatemala], I was disturbed to learn I was only one of seven minorities (and two Latinas) in our group of 52. We were completely outnumbered bu Caucasian trainees. Suddenly, my earlier misgivings were overshadowed by a more pressing question: Why are there so few minorities in the Peace Corps?

You’d think that as a US government agency operating in 77 countries, the Peace Corps would do a better job of representing our nation’s racial diversity. But only 19 percent of the more than 8,665 Peace Corps volunteers are minorities. This, in a country where almost 35% of the population is non-Hispanic white. […]

As it turns out, I have experienced culture shock in Guatemala, only it has been through the misrepresentation of the United States as a homogenous country by an agency that should do more to encourage diversity among its volunteers.

— Susan Alvarado, “Culture Shock in Guatemala”, Latina, September 2011

The university I was assigned to was in a city about 75 minutes outside of the capital, and I remained a spectacle for the nine months I was there. I should state that I have never been mistaken for anything but Black. Even before I locked my hair, I have always had full lips, a broad nose, high cheek bones and dark skin. All of which made me so completely unprepared for people stopping dead in their tracks in the street, the marketplace, or basically anywhere I was, and starring with mouths open, pointing and yelling at me or to whoever they might be saying, “Nigeria!” “Hamaica (Jamaica),” “Mali,” “Burkina Faso,” and so on.

I couldn’t understand why I was such an attraction when right in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia there were people who looked just like me. Furthermore, my Filipino, East Indian and European co-workers never even got so much as a glance in the streets. All of the attention made me wonder….do Black folks not volunteer in Africa? Because if they did, I wondered what looked so alien about me–a Black woman–in Africa?

— Adisa Vera Beatty, “Color Struck: Black and Volunteering In Africa,” Clutch Magazine