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Meet the New Co-leaders of the Museum’s Many Faces of Peace Corps DEI Initiative

Left to right: Sedem Adiabu, Adiabu while serving in Zambia 2017-2019, Sena Tensay, Tensay while serving in Zambia 2016-2018

Sedem Adiabu and Sena Tensay have volunteered to serve as the new co-leaders of Many Faces of Peace Corps – the diversity equity and inclusion initiative at the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. The team’s main objective is to help make the museum an inclusive cultural space and encourage individuals in the diverse Peace Corps community, particularly those from under-represented populations, to share objects and stories of their unique Peace Corps experiences.  Sedem and Sena assumed the leadership position at the invitation of previous co-leaders Diane Hibino and Debbie Manget.  MPCE is immensely grateful to Diane Hibino and Debbie Manget for their exceptional efforts to create a strong sense of community and belonging at the Museum.  

Sena Tensay has extensive experience in global health and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work, forged through hands-on experience in the Peace Corps in Zambia, health consulting contracts, and technical roles with USAID and other government agencies. She holds a degree in Global Health Policy and Management, resides in Washington DC, and is gearing up for a new role at USAID as a Management Program Analyst. 

Contact: sena.tensay@peacecorpsmuseum.org

Sedem Adiabu is a seasoned Global Health consultant committed to health justice and quality education. She possesses expertise in Global Health advocacy, research, operations management, and strategic stakeholder engagement. Throughout her career, she has led key projects aimed at strengthening the capacity of public health professionals and contributing to positive health outcomes in the U.S., Ghana, Zambia, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.

Contact: sedem.adiabu@peacecorpsmuseum.org

We recently sat down to discuss the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion at cultural institutions like ours.  Below is an excerpt of our conversation.  

Zack Klim (Director): I understand you both served in Zambia prior to the pandemic.  How did your time there shape the way you navigate otherness and difference?  

Sena Tensay:  At first, it was tough dealing with questions about whether I was “American enough” or when the real volunteer was going to show up. But as time went on, I learned to stop trying to stand out and instead focused on finding common ground with the people in the community. This change in perspective not only helped me understand their culture better but also allowed me to form deep connections by highlighting our shared experiences and similarities. 

Sedem Adiabu: In the Zambian rural context, community integration meant that I had to open up my life to strangers and they opened their lives to me. This journey was raw and often uncomfortable. As I examined my own identities I realized that at the root of those uncomfortable feelings was the fear of not belonging. When I asked these questions of myself, it became clear how others might feel when they are not welcomed or part of the group. They isolate and look for ways to feel belonging again. Having the courage to open my life to people without fear of judgment and to equally accept people for who they want to be helped me navigate difficult conversations on race, culture, ethnic identity, religious beliefs, and political preferences. Now it’s easier for me to listen than it is to refute. 

ZK: Are there any stories or objects from your time in Zambia that you plan to share with the Museum? 

SA:  I have an object donation in mind.  My counterpart Bana Bryan shared a beautiful art piece depicting market women walking in unison as they carried goods on their heads. This object is so precious to me because my grandmother was a market porter in her young years. She would often share stories of how the marketplace was central to the Ghanaian womanhood experience. Zambian women share this womanhood journey which represents a unique part of my Ghanaian upbringing. 

ZK:  Is there a museum you have found particularly impactful?  

ST:  So, picture this – I’ve just wrapped up my first year in Zambia, a bit jet-lagged, and suddenly find myself back in the good ole’ U.S. of A. Now, everything’s a bit surreal, but what really brought it home for me was my visit to the Air and Space Museum during those two weeks back home.  It’s chock-full of history, every aircraft you can imagine, from the classics to the latest speed demons with mind-blowing designs. The Air and Space Museum had it all.

I’d like to bring the same engaging vibe to our Museum. Imagine anyone walking in here, feeling that same fascination and excitement. We’ve got to infuse history, capture the essence of experiences, and showcase the innovation that defines the Peace Corps journey. I want every visitor to walk out feeling that same passion and connection to the incredible stories of Peace Corps volunteers. That’s the kind of museum experience I think we’re aiming for – one that resonates and leaves a lasting impression.

ZK: What’s a conversation the Museum needs to initiate with marginalized people or underrepresented communities? 

ST: There’s this crucial conversation that the Museum absolutely needs to dive into with marginalized communities. It’s not just about slapping some representation on the walls; it’s about getting people in on the storytelling action. We’re talking about co-creating narratives that showcase authenticity, capturing nuances of their Peace Corps journey. The museum can really help to open up a real dialogue. This inclusive approach isn’t just about ticking boxes; it’s about giving marginalized communities the mic, letting them reclaim their narratives in the grand story of the Peace Corps. It’s not just representation; it’s empowerment, and that’s the kind of storytelling the Museum needs to champion.

SA: I think there are many ways to answer this question but for me I believe a useful conversation would be around restoring the dignity of life. There is so much hurt and fear in marginalized communities such as Indigenous cultures, LGTBQ, BIPOC, people with disabilities, and lower socioeconomic groups to name a few as a result of cultural erasure, structural and racial violence, prejudice and discrimination, and stigma that we have to be sensitive to these wounds. We have to be brave enough to address the circumstances of marginalization.  The museum aims to bring people together in peace, solidarity and a celebration of the vastness of human experiences. We can’t hope to achieve this without addressing the void many marginalized communities have felt for years. As we build a more inclusive future, we must heal the traumatic past and storytelling in cultural spaces is a great way to do that.  

ZK: Are there any teachers or mentors that prepared you to engage in DEI work that you would like to acknowledge?  

ST: For me, it was being a part of this awesome group of African Americans who were totally doing amazing work in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) scene in Zambia. These guys were on fire, pushing for DEI efforts among us volunteers and it left a mark. It’s played a major role in shaping my whole deal and firing up my passion for these courageous conversations.

SA: I would like to acknowledge my spiritual mentor and philosopher Daisaku Ikeda who instilled in me solid principles of respect and compassion for every human being during my formative years. This shaped my career aspirations which stem from human rights approaches to public health programming and development. David Addiss, founder and Director of the Focus Area for Compassion and Ethics in Global Health also comes to mind when I think of a mentor who influenced my DEI work and valuing diversity of thought. 

ZK: You’re joining over 40 volunteers working alongside me to bring the Museum to life.  How else do you spend your time?  

ST:  You’ll find me on the tennis court, pursuing my passion for the sport, or training for 5k marathons. Family and friends are a priority, and locally, I balance my time to nurture these relationships.  I’m also a brand ambassador and sales associate at ZAAF Collections, a luxury brand crafting exquisite leather goods made in Africa. Through this role, I contribute to empowering local craftsmanship and designs. 

SA:  I support a nonprofit organization called Mental Health KAFE, which aims to increase mental health awareness, decrease stigma, and empower religious organizations to champion a mentally healthy Africa. I also run a small business called Konjo Collections, which is an online marketplace with a mission to showcase and make accessible crafted artistries from all 54 African countries to the world. 

Learn more about the Many Faces of Peace Corps initiative here.  If you or someone you know are interested in joining Sedem and Sena in this work or volunteering at the Museum in some other capacity, please contact us at info@peacecorpsmusuem.org.