US Fed News
March 23, 2006 Thursday 1:18 AM EST

AFRICAN-AMERICAN PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER BUILDS CROSS-CULTURAL
RELATIONSHIPS IN ARMENIA

WASHINGTON


The Peace Corps issued the following press release:

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 ArmeniaAlthough 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.

The Peace Corps is celebrating a 45-year legacy of service at home
and abroad, and a 30-year high for volunteers in the field. Since
1961, more than 182,000 volunteers have helped promote a better
understanding between Americans and the people of the 138 countries
where volunteers have served. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S.
citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a
27-month commitment.
From: Baghdasarian