I’m in the medical/legal clearance stage right now so I haven’t told a lot of people I’ve been accepted to the Peace Corps until it’s a go, but the ones who do know definitely have questions.
Question 1: What exactly is the Peace Corps?
John F Kennedy established the Peace Corps was established in 1961. PC has three key goals:
- Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
- Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
- Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
“The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged the students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship.”
The Peace Corps is a government organization in which accepted applicants are invited to serve in a foreign country. Areas of service are requested by the participating countries and include education, youth and community development, health, business information and communication technology, agriculture, and environment. Accepted applicants volunteer to spend 27 months abroad and fully immerse themselves in the language and culture. Volunteers have served in 139 different countries, and work to create positive sustainable change in a global community. Peace Corps celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011.
2: Tell me about Madagascar
- Peace Corps | Madagascar began in 1993. More that 1000 volunteers have served since its beginnings.
- Currently, about 130 volunteers are serving in Madagascar. Africa represents about 40% of Peace Corps volunteers.
- Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world, and is located in the Indian ocean off of the southeast coast of Africa.
- French and Malagasy are both the official languages.
- The population is about 22 million, and 90% of the population live on less than $2 per day. It is one of the poorest countries in the world.
- Climates vary. It generally has two seasons: hot and rainy from November-April and cooler and dry May-October. The east coast contain the tropical rain forests. This area is often hit by tropical storms and cyclones. The central highlands are cooler and dryer, and are the main location of Madagascar’s agriculture. The west coast contains deciduous forests that lose their leaves during the dry months. Finally, the southwest consists of deserts and are the driest areas of the country.
More about Madagascar
- Madagascar is considered a “biodiversity hot spot.” Over 90% of the wildlife in Mada lives nowhere else. These include lemurs, fossa (relative of the mongoose), and several different types of birds. 15,000 different plants species grow in Madagascar. 80% ONLY grow in Mada.
- There are 18 different ethnic groups. People from Africa and Asia originally settled Madagascar, and the culture now is a unique blend of the two. Much of the Malagasy population are predominantly animist. Many aspects of behavior is determined by cultural taboos, including treatment of the dead. About 50% of the population is Christian, and 2% are Muslim.
- Medical centers and hospitals are concentrated in urban areas, and medical care is very expensive relative to the average income. In 2010, Madagascar averaged 3 hospital beds per 10,000 people. AIDS infection rate is low compared to other African countries with about 0.9% of the adult population. Malaria is the main health concern, and was responsible for over 15% of hospital admissions in children under 5 years in 2008.
Question 3: What will you be doing?
I will be a Community Health Adviser helping to train health educators in my area. Together, we will work on implementing a communication system to improve health workers’ ability to communicate health information. I will provide education and identify interventions to promote safe pregnancies, better nutrition, prevention of malaria and other illnesses, as well as the importance of water, hygiene, and sanitation. [Or at least that is the plan]
4: What do you do for training?
I will have about 10 weeks of pre-service training late February-mid May before a swearing-in ceremony. The training has five major components: technical, cross-cultural, language, health, and safety. I will also have a one week site visit to give me an general overview of what my site will be like.
Question 5: Do you know where you’ll be living in the country?
No. Local PC staff use questionnaires and preferences to place volunteers. I don’t get to choose where I live.
6: What will your living situation be like?
I will most likely be living in a rural village without consistent electricity or running water. My housing will be similar to my community. I might have a room on the health center grounds or a small house with one or two rooms. My house might be a mud hut with a thatched roof or a modern cement house.
Question 7: Will you have electricity or running water?
It depends where in the country I am. The cities have electricity available, and the rural towns not so much. If electricity is available it will be probably be inconsistent. In addition, internet access will be limited.
8: Will you have a cell phone?
Yes. Most volunteers buy their own cell phone but service is pretty spotty outside of cities. I will bring my current mobile, buy a SIM card, and a internet stick. That way, I’ll be able to use my phone to text and call and use the internet.
Question 9: What will you eat?
Rice is the top food in all of Madagascar. Rice with vegetables, beans, or meat. Fruits and vegetables that grow in Madagascar are sold fresh and in their correct season.
Question 10: Do you have vacation?
Volunteers get two vacation days per month that can accrue totaling over 50 days for two years. I cannot take vacation within my first 6 months or my last three months.
Question 11: Will you live with a host family?
I will most definitely live with a host family during training. After that, I’m not sure. Some volunteers do and some live on their own. I’m not sure what my actual preference is. I haven’t lived with anyone in years so regardless, it’s going to be an adjustment.
Question 12: Can you receive mail?
Yes, yes, yes! I want to keep in touch with family and friends while I’m gone, and a big thank you in advance to anyone who wants to send mail my way! See my contact page on where to send stuff, what to send, and how to send it. Also, my birthday is February 24. Send cards and presents. [I joke, but seriously, send cards.
Question 13: Do you make money?
Yes, but not much. Most Madagascar natives make less than $2/day. I get paid well by American standards, but I make more in one 12 hour shift as a RN than I do in one month working in Madagascar. However, Peace Corps covers my housing and insurance so I just have to pay for food, transportation, and internet. There’s no Amazon in Madagascar so that addiction is over.
I also get an allowance at staging and a settling in allowance once in Madagascar. That allowance is based on whether the site has had a volunteer before, whether or not I need to buy furniture, and how far away I am from the capital.
At the completion of service, I will get a settlement allowance of roughly $9000 + a flight home [or its equivalent in cash]. There are also government benefits such as one year NCE status and opportunities for graduate school scholarships.
Lynard Skynard says don’t ask me no questions, but I say ask ALL the questions.