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Teaching Understanding and Empathy through Diversity and Inclusion

Teaching Understanding and Empathy through Diversity and Inclusion

Peace Corps Macedonia created a Diversity and Inclusion Working Group (D&IWG) in early 2016 when I was still in the early part of my service. The staff established this committee in the effort to be a healthy resource for volunteers who identified with various aspects of diversity (e.g., racial, gender, age, religious, sexual orientation, mental health, etc.). The founding members of the group would play a critical role in forming the structure and procedure of the committee’s function as delineated in the bylaws and would eventually elect leadership that could ensure adherence to its newly drafted constitution. With a plethora of diverse volunteers in Macedonia, the D&IWG had no shortage of individuals with passionate and creative ideas to build momentum for trying to make a difference in an Eastern European Balkan country with little to no exposure of diversity (at least in the way we possess and, perhaps, define it in the USA).

During my service, I had an opportunity to be part of the process of striving to educate the local people (referred to as host country nationals or HCNs in Peace Corps lingo) by agreeing to take part in an enlightening video project devised by a friend who really wanted people (both in Macedonia and America) to know what it is/was like to serve in Macedonia as a person of color. Fortunately, Peace Corps approved the project and my friend partnered with another volunteer friend skilled in videography to produce a short-length documentary on the forenamed topic. I was one of nine volunteers interviewed (each of us in our respective communities around the country) on a series of questions related to our ethnic identity and the challenges we have faced as volunteers accordingly. The documentary depicts the interviewees interacting with colleagues, students, and host family members as they navigate normal life in their communities.

Primarily meant for Peace Corps training purposes, those of us involved in the project ultimately hoped that our voices would be heard, unique in that we symbolize segments of the United States that are often underrepresented or misrepresented by mass media. We do not fit the status quo of how we tend to be portrayed to people around the world who may have never met someone of our racial background or cultural heritage. Thus, this video project has served to enable our Macedonian counterparts a closer look into life in the shoes of a culturally different other and how building bridges of unity and understanding through friendship and empathy can nurture a deeper respect for all people and things colorful and beautiful in their own natural right. Enjoy the video!

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