What is “cultural competency?”

Volunteers should understand the importance of cultural sensitivity as it relates to work with their clients. Learn what cultural competency is and what it includes.

Culture, defined in its broadest sense, is the underlying fabric that holds together a person’s world – or just about everything that binds one to a particular group and place in time. A culture is made up of a group of people who share attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, practices, products, experiences and/or conditions of existence. This includes language, values, beliefs, customs, rituals, oral and written history, art, music, dance, food and much more. Diversity is a word that describes the differences among people. Multiculturalism is seeing, understanding and finding good in cultural differences. Appreciating differences and developing multicultural awareness starts with each individual.

Cultural competency refers to an attitude of respect, openness and acceptance toward people, whatever their culture. All truly supportive relationships are built on a sense of trust and safety, which comes from a feeling of being appreciated for just the way one is. A primary job of volunteers who work with young people is to honor the inherent worth that each child brings into the world and to respect their special cultural backgrounds. By building and strengthening these skills, volunteers and youth provide the foundations for developing capable competent citizens, a primary goal of 4-H youth development programs.

Research indicates that there are three components of cultural competency needed by individuals:  self-awareness, knowledge of and experience with diverse cultures, and positive interactions with different cultural groups. Information is central to building an inclusive relationship. There are different types of diversity issues and each has the potential to cause misunderstanding. However, you can’t learn cultural understanding in a day or from a book. It is important to talk about each person’s personal history and heritage as well as experiences at work, school, home and with peer communities. Volunteers and youth should be open to discussing why they believe and value the things they do in order to better understand one another. Others in the volunteer’s life, including program staff, friends and colleagues can also share valuable insights regarding cultural competency.

By working together to create culturally inclusive environments, youth and adults benefit from a variety of perspectives and learn how to successfully navigate differences.

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