2006.03.23: March 23, 2006: Headlines: COS - Armenia: African American Issues: Peace Corps: African-American Peace Corps Volunteer Nicole "Nicki" Hendrix Builds Cross-Cultural Relationships in Armenia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Armenia: Peace Corps Armenia : The Peace Corps in Armenia: 2006.03.23: March 23, 2006: Headlines: COS - Armenia: African American Issues: Peace Corps: African-American Peace Corps Volunteer Nicole "Nicki" Hendrix Builds Cross-Cultural Relationships in Armenia

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African-American Peace Corps Volunteer Nicole "Nicki" Hendrix Builds Cross-Cultural Relationships in Armenia

African-American Peace Corps Volunteer Nicole Nicki Hendrix Builds Cross-Cultural Relationships in Armenia

Nearly two years have passed and Hendrix's service in Armenia is almost finished. "I can honestly say that I am not the same person I was before becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. I am a better person. I am able to see all sides of an issue or situation. My views on life and people are no longer narrow they are multifaceted and global. I am confident and self-assured in my skills and abilities, and best of all, I am a more compassionate person," Hendrix said.

African-American Peace Corps Volunteer Nicole "Nicki" Hendrix Builds Cross-Cultural Relationships in Armenia

African-American Peace Corps Volunteer Builds Cross-Cultural Relationships in Armenia

In celebration of the 45th anniversary, this is the continuation of a series featuring diverse Peace Corps volunteers.

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 23, 2006 When Nicole "Nicki" Hendrix, a Peace Corps volunteer from Los Angeles arrived at her site in the former Soviet republic of Armenia in 2004, her presence caused quite a stir: the 35-year old community development volunteer was the first African-American to ever live and work in the village.

Upon her arrival, Hendrix had large groups of people, young and old, who came running up to her while calling out the "n-word" one of the most hurtful racial slurs imaginable to Hendrix. She didn't know it then, but this was the only word most of the local Armenians knew for "African-American." She later learned that during the Soviet Era, although students were taught about the history of African-Americans in America, school books referred to African-Americans by the racial slur. Many Armenians, Hendrix discovered, were not aware of the negative connotation that word has in the United States.


Changing perceptions: Nicki Hendrix and the mayor of her host community in Armenia
Although she was shocked by the greeting that first day, she didn't turn around and leave she had a job to do, a job that became even more critical as a result of that initial greeting.

"I use each encounter involving the word's usage as a chance to teach Armenians about African-Americans and our history, if they are not familiar with it. It also gives me the opportunity to tell those who do not already know that the U.S. is a very ethnically diverse country with people from many different nationalities and ethnic groups that live and work there," Hendrix said of her experience of dispelling stereotypes in an ethnically-homogeneous society like Armenia.

Hendrix set out to not only accomplish her goals as a community development volunteer, but also to help change the perception of African-Americans in Armenia by helping to eradicate the use of the racial slur. "The challenge is getting people to see things differently and to embrace the unfamiliar, instead of the familiar. I know this will not happen overnight, but I am at least planting the seed for change in the people that I meet. I believe these experiences define my minority Peace Corps volunteer experience: educating and introducing a different aspect of American culture to the people of Armenia," she said.

Since she arrived in Armenia, Hendrix feels she has made a real impact on her village. Working with the members of her community, Hendrix helped renovate a local park ("Peace Park"), which services not only her town, but also the seventeen surrounding villages. During the Soviet Era, the park was once considered the central meeting place for the exchange of culture, business and fun for children and adults. But when the Soviet Era ended, the town could no longer afford to maintain it; the equipment became dilapidated and was later taken away for fuel and heating during the initial tumultuous years of becoming a newly independent state.

For nearly a decade, the renovation of the park had been a top priority among community members, businesses, and the town's municipality, to provide the villagers with a place to rest, exercise and communicate with each other and to prevent people from taking the park land for their own personal use. Hendrix said she was glad to be able to help assist the members of her community in making their dream come true. The park now serves a population of over 100,000 people.

Nearly two years have passed and Hendrix's service in Armenia is almost finished. "I can honestly say that I am not the same person I was before becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. I am a better person. I am able to see all sides of an issue or situation. My views on life and people are no longer narrow they are multifaceted and global. I am confident and self-assured in my skills and abilities, and best of all, I am a more compassionate person," Hendrix said.

Serving as a minority volunteer has not been easy for Hendrix, but she has learned a great deal from the experience. "The most prominent challenge I faced upon arriving to my host country was getting the host country nationals to see me as a person instead of an object. As an African-American living in Armenia, I received a lot more attention than my fellow Caucasian Peace Corps volunteers," she said. "I find that some Armenians are still learning how to treat foreigners who look differently than them."

Hendrix noted that her presence in Armenia has also helped some host country nationals see that all African-Americans are not just entertainers and athletes, because she is neither. According to Hendrix, her presence also showed Armenians who are unfamiliar with the concept of volunteerism that African-Americans volunteer to serve others, too.

"Being a minority Peace Corps volunteer has made the world seem smaller. We all have the same fears, hurts, pains, problems, issues, and we all want to be loved, respected, heard, accepted, successful, happy, and needed. We just say it in different languages and with different customs," said Hendrix.

"We can all help each other if we have a desire to do so. In every country, there are the 'haves and have-nots,' and in each country, there are those who are trying to rid the world of divisiveness and make the world a better place for everyone. I believe that the U.S. Peace Corps is one of many organizations that is trying to make the world a better place for everyone, regardless of race, class, creed, or educational background. I believe that my service as a minority Peace Corps volunteer helps to get this message across to the people in my region and the country at large."

The Peace Corps has been sending volunteers to Armenia since 1992. Throughout the country, volunteers work in the fields of business and community development, education, health and environment. There are currently 86 volunteers serving in Armenia and, since the program's inception, 442 volunteers have served. To learn more about Armenia, please visit the Where Do Volunteers Go? section.





When this story was posted in May 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:


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Exactly one week ago we predicted that Director Vasquez would soon be receiving a major ambassadorship. Today the White House confirmed that Vasquez will be the new Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture replacing Tony Hall.

PCOL Comment: Director Vasquez, let us be the first to thank you for your service to the Peace Corps, congratulate you on your new appointment, and wish you good luck in your future endeavors. Although we have had our differences over the years and we opposed your nomination in 2001, we think you are leaving a solid legacy of accomplishment and have served the Peace Corps well.

Initiatives and Accomplishments: Vasquez's major initiatives and accomplishments since becoming Peace Corps Director include: an agreement with Mexico in 2003 to host volunteers, sending RPCVs to work domestically in Hurricane relief after Katrina, emphasis on recruitment of minorities and of community college graduates, upgrading Peace Corps' infrastructure especially IT upgrades in the online application tracking process and the Volunteer Delivery System, an emphasis on safety and security of volunteers including the creation of a Situation Room at Peace Corps Headquarters, modifying Peace Corps' "Five Year Rule" for employment, and the expansion of the Peace Corps to its highest level in 30 years. He is the third longest serving Peace Corps Director after Loret Ruppe Miller and Sargent Shriver.

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The Peace Corps Library is now available online with over 40,000 index entries in 500 categories. Looking for a Returned Volunteer? Check our RPCV Directory. New: Sign up to receive PCOL Magazine, our free Monthly Magazine by email. Like to keep up with Peace Corps news as it happens? Sign up to recieve a daily summary of Peace Corps stories from around the world.

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Monthly readership on "Peace Corps Online" has increased in the past twelve months to 350,000 visitors - over eleven thousand every day - a 100% increase since this time last year. Thanks again, RPCVs and Friends of the Peace Corps, for making PCOL your source of information for the Peace Corps community. And thanks for supporting the Peace Corps Library and History of the Peace Corps. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come.

History of the Peace Corps Date: March 18 2006 No: 834 History of the Peace Corps
PCOL is proud to announce that Phase One of the "History of the Peace Corps" is now available online. This installment includes over 5,000 pages of primary source documents from the archives of the Peace Corps including every issue of "Peace Corps News," "Peace Corps Times," "Peace Corps Volunteer," "Action Update," and every annual report of the Peace Corps to Congress since 1961. "Ask Not" is an ongoing project. Read how you can help.

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Invitee re-assigned after inflammatory remarks Date: March 21 2006 No: 839 Invitee re-assigned after inflammatory remarks
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