From Peace Corps Wiki
For the official Welcome Book for Guinea see here
PEACE CORPS / GUINEA HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Guinea
Peace Corps signed a cooperation agreement with the government of Guinea in 1962, which forms the basis for our current country program. The first Volunteers arrived in Guinea in 1963. However, in 1966, relations between the United States government and the government of Guinea soured, and the Guinean government asked Volunteers to leave. Peace Corps was invited back in 1969, but again relations between the two governments deteriorated, and Volunteers left in 1971. Soon after President Sekou Touré’s death in 1984, Peace Corps was asked to return once again to Guinea. Peace Corps has maintained a continuous presence in Guinea since 1986.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Guinea
The mission of the Peace Corps in Guinea is to help the people of Guinea meet their development and human resource needs. Existing projects address the top development priorities of the government, which are: education, health, natural resource management and small enterprise development. Most Volunteers are based in rural areas so that they may reach those communities most in need of assistance.
Since 1963, more than 1,100 Volunteers have served in Guinea. Currently, approximately 115 Volunteers serve in-country. No matter what sector they are in, Volunteers are much in demand by schools, health centers, cooperatives, and rural communities; requests for Volunteers historically exceed our capacity to provide them.
The development philosophy of Peace Corps/Guinea is to build capacity from the ground up—to empower people so they can improve the quality of their own lives. This philosophy has an impact not only on the education, health, and economics of the people in communities where Volunteers work, but also on their view of the role of private citizens in a democracy such as ours, and this fosters an appreciation for honest, transparent and democratic institutions and governance.
The future for Peace Corps/Guinea looks good, and we envision changes that will make it even better. Because the government of Guinea is unable to recruit sufficient numbers of teachers to meet the needs of rural schools, Peace Corps/ Guinea continues to supply high school classroom teachers. We hope to move to the next level of capacity building and train teachers themselves. There also appear to be opportunities to work in new regions of Guinea, and Peace Corps staff members are currently evaluating re-entry to the Forest region.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW:GUINEA AT A GLANCE
The geographical landmass commonly referred to today as the Republic of Guinea in West Africa, has been inhabited for thousands of years. Prior to occupation by the French, many parts of the country and the people belonged to the empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai that prospered between 1000 and 1400 AD. However, it is probably more useful to focus on the country’s more recent history—from the colonial era, to independence, to the present.
Guinea’s colonial period began with the arrival of the French in the early 19th century. The coastal region became a French protectorate in 1849. France’s domination of the country was assured by 1898. Official French policy promoted the assimilation of French customs and language by local populations. This was based on the supposed “cultural superiority” of the French over indigenous people. As elsewhere in French West Africa, colonial rule in Guinea was characterized by neither assimilation nor association. Few Guineans were educated in either French language or culture.
After World War II, a number of changes were introduced in the administration of the colonies. For example, French-educated Guineans were finally allowed to vote under the Loi Cadre in 1946. While a French governor remained head of the territorial government, he was assisted by a government council chosen by a newly elected territorial assembly.
Provision was also made for an African vice president to be selected from among the assemblymen. These changes favored political and social progress in the colony and led to the creation of political parties that paved the way for self-determination and independence.
In 1958, Guinea was the first colony in Africa to gain its independence from France through an effort led by the country’s first president, Sekou Touré. The decision by the newly formed Guinean government not to participate in the economic system proposed by French leaders for their former colonies led to a complete break in relations with France, souring relations between the two countries for years to come. As a result of this break with the West and ongoing political pressures of the Cold War, Sekou Touré developed close relations with Cuba and the Soviet Union, and he instituted Marxist-socialist economic and political reforms.
President Touré died in 1984 and a military coup was led by Guinean army colonel Lansana Conté. The Army formed a committee (Comité Militaire de Redressement National or CMRN) to run the country. This committee banned the Democratic Party, suspended the 1982 constitution, and dissolved the National Assembly. The CMRN also resolved to create a market-oriented economy and promised to encourage an open, pluralistic society.
A constitutional committee was established in October 1988, and a new constitution was put to popular vote at the end of 1990. The revised constitution received overwhelming popular support. This ended the first phase of the transition to a democratically elected government promised by the army since its early days in power.
A second phase began in 1991 with the replacement of the CMRN by the Conseil Transitoire de Redressement National or CTRN, which included more civilians than the CMRN. The CTRN served as a transitional government until presidential and parliamentary elections were held. General Lansana Conte was elected president in the country’s first multiparty elections in 1993, and he was reelected president in 1998 and 2003 (although the 2003 elections were not internationally described as free and fair). Parliamentary majority in the 114-member National Assembly is held by the party that supported the president’s candidacy, the Party for Unity and Progress (PUP).
Guinea is a republic and the government is composed of three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The executive branch consists of an elected president and appointed civilian ministers; the legislative branch consists of the elected National Assembly; and the judicial branch has a supreme court. There is universal suffrage for Guinean citizens over age 18. Political parties were legalized in April 1992.
The administration of Guinea is carried out on four levels, beginning at the top with the national government, followed by regions (8), prefectures (33), and lastly sub-prefectures (100) also called rural development communities (CRDs). The president appoints officials to all levels of the country’s highly centralized administration.
Despite its mineral wealth, Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the world. With a gross domestic product estimated at $19.5 billion in 2004, the per capita GDP is around $2,100. The country’s economy depends mostly on agriculture and the extraction of natural resources.
Leading export crops are coffee, bananas, palm kernels, and pineapples. Guinea possesses between one-fourth and one-third of the world’s known bauxite reserves and high-grade ore. The country ranks second only to Australia in ore production and is the world’s largest exporter of bauxite. Mining is the most dynamic and important source of foreign exports, providing the majority of export revenues. There are rich deposits of iron ore, gold, and diamonds, but Guinea’s underdeveloped infrastructure has prevented the exploitation of these available resources.
Industrial and commercial sectors are in the early stages of development. Significant economic liberalization has been achieved by reforms begun in 1984. There has been growth in the trade, agricultural production, manufacturing, and informal (i.e., street vendors and other small-scale entrepreneurial activities) sectors. However, many economic issues are unresolved, including creating a healthier environment for the growth of the private sector and better economic achievement.
People and Culture
Guinea’s population of approximately 9.5 million is growing at an annual rate of 2.8 percent. One-sixth of the population lives in Conakry, the capital, where the population is increasing at a rate of 5 percent per year. Forty-five percent of Guineans are under age 15. Life expectancy is 50 years, and child (under five years of age) mortality is 90 per 1,000 live births.
Both the ethnic configuration and the linguistic distribution of people in Guinea are the function of natural geographic divisions. Although there are more than 20 ethnic groups in the country, each geographic region has a predominant group that absorbs or influences the others in the region. In some cases, smaller ethnic groups are actually subdivisions of larger ones, with similar linguistic and cultural roots.
Lower Guinea (Basse Côte) is made up of the Susu, Baga, Nalu, Landuma, Tyapi, and Mikiforé people. Susu is the largest of these and represents about 20 percent of the population of Guinea. Middle Guinea (Moyenne Guinée) includes the Fulani people (Peuhl in French), who represent approximately 40 percent of this region's population, Djalonké (the original inhabitants of the Fouta Djallon), and Tenda. Upper Guinea (Haute Guinée) is made up of the Malinke, Djalonké, and Ouassoulounké. The Malinke account for about 30 percent of the population in Upper Guinea. Finally, the Forest Region accommodates the Kissia (Kissi in French), Loma (Toma in French), and Kpèlè (Guerzé in French). There have not been significant clashes among these ethnic groups, as intermarriages and the sharing of a similar culture have brought peaceful cohabitation. However, elections have prompted some ethnic conflicts among followers of ethnically based parties.
Over the last decade, conflicts in neighboring countries, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire, forced more than 800,000 people to migrate to Guinea as refugees. Most of these refugees were women, children, and the elderly. The Guinean government contributed more than 1,000 troops to peacekeeping forces in neighboring countries. The signing of a peace accord between rebels and the Sierra Leonean government in November 1996 has provided stability over the past two to three years and nearly all the refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia have been repatriated.
Guinea is located on the south western edge of the great bulge of West Africa, approximately 9° 30' north and 13° 43' west of the equator. Guinea borders six other countries: Guinea-Bissau in the northwest, Senegal and Mali in the north and northeast, Côte d’Ivoire in the east, and Liberia and Sierra Leone in the south. Total land area is 98,400 square miles (246,000 square kilometers or approximately the size of Oregon). The Atlantic coastline includes 218 miles (352 km) of mangroves and beautiful beaches.
The country’s varied terrain is divided into four regions:
Lower Guinea or Maritime Guinea, Middle Guinea, Upper Guinea, and the Forest Region. Lower Guinea extends 30 miles (48 km) inland from the shoreline. Beyond the coastal plain is the mountainous plateau region of the Fouta Djallon, with an average elevation of about 3,000 feet (915 meters). Upper Guinea features gently undulating savanna, broken by occasional rocky outcrops with an average elevation of 1,000 feet (305 m). In the extreme southeast are the forested highlands. Mount Nimba in this region is the highest point in the country at 6,070 feet (1,850 m).
Guinea is described as “the water tower of West Africa,” and has considerable potential to generate hydroelectric power for industry and provide irrigation for agriculture . Principal rivers include the Bafing (the upper course of the Senegal River) and the Gambia, both of which start in the mountains of the Fouta Djallon and flow northeast over the country’s borders. The Niger River and its important tributary, the Milo River, originate in the forested Guinea highlands.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Guinea, and to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee they will be.
A note of caution: As you surf the Internet, be aware that you may find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to express opinions about the Peace Corps based on their own experiences, including comments by those who may not have been happy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. These opinions are not those of the majority of Volunteers, the Peace Corps or the U.S. government, and we hope you will keep in mind that no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About Guinea
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Conakry to how to convert from the dollar to the Guinean franc. Just click on “Guinea” and go from there.
Visit this site for general travel advice about almost any country in the world.
The State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Guinea and learn more about its social and political history.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments worldwide.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information, and each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political background.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the UN.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about countries worldwide.
This site provides maps, flags, and other facts and figures for almost every country in the world.
CIA World Factbook
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This Yahoo site hosts a bulletin board where prospective Volunteers and returned Volunteers can come together.
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local Volunteer activities.
This site is known as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web Ring. Browse the Web ring and see what former Volunteers are saying about their service.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts of their Peace Corps service.
A website hosted by returned Volunteers who served in Guinea. There are several helpful Guinea links on the site, and they share a quarterly newsletter and provide fundraising for current Volunteer projects. This is also an excellent way for family and friends to stay informed about events in Guinea.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Guinea
News about all of Africa (in English)
News site from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (in English)
Web portal with news about Guinea (in French)
Web portal with news about Guinea (in French)
Jeune Afrique online (in French)
International Development Sites About Guinea
The U.S. Agency for International Development’s work in Guinea
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
French Language Websites
It is a good idea to practice French as much as possible before your departure. Local language instruction will be extremely important when you begin your training in-country, and it will be provided when your French proficiency is sufficiently advanced. The following websites may be useful:
French Language Guide with Sound:
Several links to BBC online courses with video clips:
Basic French Grammar Site (no sound):
Fluent French: http://www.signiform.com/french/
French Tutorial: http://www.frenchtutorial.com/
ARTFL French-English and English-French Dictionaries http://www.hum.port.ac.uk/slas/francophone/frac-in0.htm
A Wealth of Links to Resources on Francophone Africa: http://www.scola.org
SCOLA’s mission is to help the people of the world learn more about each other, their languages, their cultures and their ideologies through the use of modern technology. Their site provides unedited televised programming from 80 countries in 70 languages and dialects. This language learning resource is recommended by Peace Corps for invitees. For further information, please go to the following site and click on French language (Sorry, no Guinea yet!):
- Africa On File. New York: Facts On File, 1995.
- Africa South of the Sahara 2003 (32nd ed.). London: Europa Yearbook Publications, 2002.
- Country Profile Guinea and Country Report Guinea. Economist Intelligence Unit (15 Regent Street, London SW1Y 4LR, United Kingdom).
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2002. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 2003.
- Kéita, Sidiki Kobélé. Esquisses biographiques des Premiers Députés Guinéens. Conakry, Guinea: Editions Universitaires, 1995.
- Kurian, George Thomas. The Encyclopedia of the Third World, Vol. 2 (4th ed.). New York: Facts On File, 1992.
- Laye, Camara. The Dark Child: The Autobiography of an African Boy. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Reissue edition (January 1, 1954) (L’Enfant Noir, in French)
- Nelson, Harold D. Area Handbook for Guinea (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C.: American University, Foreign Area Studies, 1975.
- O’Toole, Thomas E. Historical Dictionary of Guinea (2nd ed.). Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1987.
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Banerjee, Dillon. So You Want to Join the Peace Corps: What to Know Before You Go. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2000.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, N.Y.: Picador, 2003.
- Herrera, Susana. Mango Elephants in the Sun: How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, N.Y.: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, Calif.: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.S. standards for mail service, you will be disappointed. Mail from the United States takes a minimum of three to four weeks to arrive in Conakry, and can take an additional two weeks or more to reach places outside Conakry (Peace Corps/Guinea has a monthly mail run from Conakry to every Volunteer site). Some mail may simply not arrive (this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Some letters may arrive with clipped edges because someone has tried to see if any money was inside (again, this is rare, but it does happen). Advise your family and friends to number their letters for tracking purposes, and to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes.
Despite the delays, we encourage you to write to your family regularly and to number your letters. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so it is a good idea to advise them that mail is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/ Guinea would notify the Office of Special Services at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, which would then contact your family.
Note that nothing of great value should be sent via international mail, since packages sometimes arrive with items missing. While marking a package “educational materials” may increase the odds that a given item will arrive intact, this labeling should be reserved for books, magazines, and the like. You will be charged a customs and handling fee for all incoming packages, which varies depending on the contents of the package. Valuable items should be mailed via DHL or another express-mail service; DHL is the quickest and safest means of sending things to Guinea.
While in Guinea, your address will be:
Corps de la Paix Americain
The telephone system in Guinea is unreliable, and calling the United States is difficult and expensive. Volunteers often set up calls between Guinea and the United States in advance, arranging for a time and place to receive calls from home. In the interior of the country telephone access is sporadic. Few Volunteers have phones at their sites, but tele-centers exist in most large towns and regional capitals. It is not possible to make collect calls or calls to toll-free numbers from Guinea. Note that Guinea is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (fours hours ahead during Daylight Savings Time).
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
The infrastructure needed for electronic communications has not progressed at the same rate in Guinea as it has in many other parts of the world. Access to e-mail and the Internet is rare in most of the country, although there is limited access (at slow connection speeds) at Internet cafes in Conakry and some regional capitals. The Peace Corps has installed computers for Volunteers to use at regional workstations and at the resource center at the Peace Corps office in Conakry. While Internet access is spreading to other cities in Guinea, the lack of electricity in much of the country remains a problem. While Internet access is difficult and will be intermittent throughout your service, many Volunteers create and post messages to websites and blogs. This is an excellent forum you might consider for sharing your experience with family and friends. Should you choose to create a website or blog, please refer to the guidance and Peace Corps policies in the Volunteer Handbook. Additionally, Volunteers should discuss the content of their blogs and websites with the country director.
Housing and Site Location
Before Volunteers arrive, Peace Corps/Guinea staff, in collaboration with local partners, identify safe and secure Volunteer housing. Volunteers have their own lodging, which varies depending on the region of the country, during service. Your housing might be a two-room house made from cement with a corrugated tin roof or a mud hut with a thatch roof. Volunteers are located anywhere from seven miles (12 km) to 62 miles (100 km) from the nearest Volunteer or regional capital.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Peace Corps will open a bank account for you in Conakry when you arrive in Guinea, and will deposit your living and travel allowances (in Guinean francs) into this account on a quarterly basis throughout your service. The Guinean government or other local development partner provides housing for Volunteers. Volunteer living allowance is intended to cover regular expenses such as food, transportation, and clothing. It should allow you to maintain a standard of living comparable to your Guinean counterparts.
Although credit cards and ATM cards can rarely be used in Guinea, they are widely accepted in neighboring countries and are very convenient to have when traveling abroad.
Food and Diet
Guinea’s major food crops include millet, maize (corn), rice, manioc (cassava), groundnuts (peanuts), and palm oil. In addition, coffee and bananas are cultivated for export.
Rice is the staple food, regardless of region. If people have not had any rice on a particular day, they do not feel that they have eaten! Rice is served with a variety of sauces, such as peanut sauce, several different leaf sauces (like spinach, only tastier), and soup. If a family has the means, beef, chicken, or fish (usually dried) may be added to the sauce.
The supply of fruits and vegetables varies according to the season and the region. Bananas are available year-round, but oranges, avocados, and pineapples are seasonal. Mangoes are available in the dry season.
Volunteers in Guinea primarily use public transportation to get around, including taxis, buses, and (occasionally) airplanes. Volunteers are not allowed to drive motorized vehicles.
Every Volunteer is issued a mountain bicycle and mandatory bicycle helmet. Agroforestry Volunteers are permitted to ride as a passenger on their counterpart’s motorbike, but to do so they must wear a motorbike helmet (provided by Peace Corps/Guinea).
Geography and Climate
Guinea has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons: a dry season from November to April, and a wet season from May to October. Annual rainfall varies from 170 inches in Conakry to fewer than 60 inches in Upper Guinea. Temperatures also vary by region. On the coast and in the Forest Region, temperature averages 81 degrees Fahrenheit. In January, in the Fouta highlands, temperatures vary from 86 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, dropping below 50 degrees at night. In the dry season, midday highs of more than 100 degrees are not uncommon in Upper Guinea.
You will be invited to the major celebrations in your village such as marriages and baptisms, which usually feature music and a feast for all participants. Islamic holidays such as Ramadan and Tabaski offer additional opportunities to socialize with your community and learn about Islam and the Muslim way of life. Some villages also have dance halls (discos). The best opportunities for socializing will come when you have made friends at your site.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity. It is not an easy situation to resolve, and we can only provide you with guidelines. As a representative of a government ministry, you will be expected to dress and behave professionally. While some of your Guinean counterparts may dress in seemingly worn or shabby clothes, this is more likely a matter of economics than choice. It is likely that they are wearing their best. Much importance is placed on appearance in this culture, and you should always try your best to present a neat, clean, and professional appearance.
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty theft and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur. However, nearly all Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Guinea. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies may not always provide the support they promised.
In addition, the pace of work and life in Guinea is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.
You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or ever will have. You will often find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your co-workers with little guidance or supervision. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress comes from the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
Overcoming these difficulties will require maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. Guineans are warm, friendly, and hospitable people, and the Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during challenging times as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Guinea feeling that they gained much more than they gave during their service. With a commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will enjoy your Peace Corps service.
Overview of Pre-Service Training
The goal of pre-service training (PST) is to provide Volunteers the skills needed to be successful and solve most problems at their post on their own. You should be able to rely on Guinean counterparts, friends, and your community, rather than fellow Americans, as your primary support group. By the end of training, you will have the skills to integrate rapidly into your community and a clear understanding of your role as a Peace Corps Volunteer in your project and in the overall development of Guinea.
The PST program has four major components: language, technical, cross-cultural, and medical (which includes personal safety and security). In language training, you will learn French and local language skills, and explore ways to communicate across cultural barriers. From technical training sessions, you will acquire the skills needed to accomplish project objectives. Cross-cultural training sessions will help you adapt to Guinea’s culture. Medical sessions will teach you how to stay healthy and identify illnesses, and safety sessions will help you identify safety risks and prepare you to take responsibility for your own safety. The overall training program is designed to integrate as many of these components as possible into simultaneous training sessions.
Pre-service training is based in Forecariah, a semi-urban town about 60 miles (100 km) north of Conakry. During training, you will live with a Guinean family. Peace Corps’ language and cultural facilitators will live in the community with you (one per four trainees).
Trainees and Volunteers in Guinea consistently rate the host family experience as the most challenging and meaningful aspect of training. The challenge lies in adapting to the basic living conditions of a Guinean village and communicating before you've learned the basics of French and your local language. You will have a private room with a bed and a mosquito net. Toilet facilities usually consist of an outdoor pit latrine and bathing is done with water in a bucket in outdoor stalls—under the sun or stars! You will eat breakfast and dinner (and lunch on Saturdays and Sundays) with your host family.
Technical training will prepare you to work in Guinea by building on the skills you already have and by helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. Peace Corps staff, Guinean experts, and current Volunteers will conduct the training program. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have to the community in which you will serve as a Volunteer.
Technical training will include sessions on the general economic and political environment in Guinea, and strategies for working within such an environment. You will review technical sector goals, and will meet with the Guinean agencies and organizations that invited Peace Corps to assist them. You will be supported and evaluated throughout training to build the confidence and skills you need to undertake project activities.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance. They help you integrate into your community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to new surroundings.
Therefore, language training is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer. Guinean language instructors teach formal language classes five days a week in small groups of three to five people. You will learn both French and the local language—Pulaar, Maninka, or Soussou—most commonly spoken at your site.
Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom with your host family and other members of the community. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication so that you can practice and further develop your language skills further on your own. Prior to being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.
As part of PST, you will live with a Guinean host family. This experience is designed to ease your transition to life at your site. Families go through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to learn the purpose of pre-service training and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Guinea. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
Cross-cultural and community development training will help you improve your communication skills and understand your role as a facilitator for development. You will be exposed to topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, non-formal and adult education strategies, and traditional political structures.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You will be expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health and well-being by adhering to all medical policies. Trainees are required to attend all medical sessions. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in Guinea. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces risks at home, at work, and during your travels. You will learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. During service, there are usually three training events. The titles and objectives for these trainings are as follows:
- In-service trainings (ISTs): provide an opportunity for Volunteers to upgrade their technical, language, and project development skills while sharing their experiences and reaffirming their commitment after having served for three to six months.
- Close-of-service (COS) conference: Prepares Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service and reviews their respective projects and personal experiences.
The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted to country-specific needs and conditions. The key to the training system is that training events are integrated and interrelated, from the pre-departure orientation through the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN GUINEA
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps’ medical programs emphasize a preventive approach to disease. Peace Corps/ Guinea maintains a clinic with two full-time medical officers who take care of Volunteers’ primary health concerns. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Guinea at local hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to medical facilities in a third country (usually South Africa, Senegal or England) or the United States.
Health Issues in Guinea
Major health problems among Volunteers in Guinea are rare, and most often the result of Volunteers’ not taking preventive measures to stay healthy. The most common health problems in Guinea are those also found in the United States, such as: colds, diarrhea, sinus infections, skin infections, headaches, dental problems, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and emotional problems. These problems may be more frequent or compounded by life in Guinea because certain environmental factors here raise the risk or exacerbate the severity of illnesses and injuries.
Guinea is considered a tropical country and there are many diseases found here that do not commonly exist in the U.S. Among these, amoebas, schistosomiasis, and malaria are the most common.
Because you will be serving in an area where malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, is prevalent, you must take an approved anti-malarial drug, usually Mefloquine (Larium). Mefloquine is currently known to be the best prophylaxis available, and it is safe and generally well tolerated. Some Volunteers (fewer than 5 percent) experience side effects such as upset stomach, nightmares, or blurry vision. These side effects can almost always be eliminated by simple measures (e.g., taking the Mefloquine with or following a meal, taking it in the morning or at bedtime, or dividing the dose by taking half a tablet twice a week rather than a single tablet once a week). If Mefloquine is not advised for an individual due to a specific medical condition, alternative prophylactic regimens are available to Volunteers; these are: Doxycycline and Malarone. The Peace Corps medical officer will assist you in determining the best prophylactic regimen. Any change in malaria prophylaxis must be discussed with the medical officer.
Rabies does exist in Guinea. If you decide to keep a dog or cat, it is your responsibility to make sure it is vaccinated against rabies. Exposure to rabies can occur through animal bites or scratches and from contact with animal saliva. You will receive three preventive rabies shots during training. Any possible exposure to a rabid animal during service must be reported to the medical officer immediately and appropriate treatment will be administered.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Guinea, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training, you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of this kit are listed later in this section.
During PST, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical office. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as Peace Corps will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use since they may not be available in country and it may take several months for shipments to arrive.
You will have physicals at mid-service and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officers in Guinea will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Guinea, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept considerable responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage “An ounce of prevention...” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards we know in the United States.
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These illnesses include food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, typhoid fever, etc. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation during pre-service training.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To reduce your risk of exposure to such disease, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from the medical officer about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancy. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let the medical officer know immediately of the onset of suspected illness or if injured.
The AIDS pandemic strikes across all social strata in many Peace Corps countries. The loss of teachers has crippled education systems, while illness and disability drain family income and force governments and donors to redirect limited resources from other priorities. The fear and uncertainty AIDS causes has led to increased domestic violence and stigmatizing of people living with HIV/AIDS, isolating them from friends and family and cutting them off from economic opportunities. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will confront these issues on a very personal level. It is important to be aware of the high emotional toll that disease, death and violence can have on Volunteers. As you strive to integrate into your community, you will develop relationships with local people who might die during your service. Because of the AIDS pandemic, some Volunteers will be regularly meeting with HIV-positive people and working with training staff, office staff and host family members living with AIDS.
Volunteers need to prepare themselves to embrace these relationships in a sensitive and positive manner. Likewise, malaria and malnutrition, motor vehicle accidents and other unintentional injuries, domestic violence and corporal punishment are problems a Volunteer may confront. You will need to anticipate these situations and utilize supportive resources available throughout your training and service to maintain your own emotional strength, so that you can continue to be of service to your community.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention, but also has programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if a pregnant Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work, it is rare that pregnant Volunteers can meet Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service. Due to the medical infrastructure and the risk of malaria in Guinea, no Volunteer will be allowed to stay in Guinea if she becomes pregnant.
If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical officer in Guinea will provide them. If you require a specific feminine hygiene product, please bring a six-month supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a medical kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat the minor, more frequent illnesses that may occur during service. Medical kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Tinactin (antifungal cream)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your physical, mental, or dental health since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve, and result in administrative or medical termination of service.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your pre-departure orientation or shortly after you arrive in Guinea. You will receive your first dose of the malaria prophylactic during the three-day orientation.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or non-prescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs.
Note: The medical office in-country maintains a supply of common brand and generic medicines. It does not supply specific brands of medicines or hygiene products without specific doctor's orders stating a particular medical reason. If you have need for specific medications (brand names), you must bring doctor's orders for them.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you. If a pair breaks the Peace Corps will replace it using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. We discourage you from using contact lenses during your service to reduce the risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.
The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information.
The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control.
Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.— with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: Assaults usually occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
- Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
- Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
- Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
- Carry valuables in different pockets/places
- Carry a "dummy" wallet as a decoy Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
- Live with a local family or on a family compound
- Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
- Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
- Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
- Make local friends
- Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security; Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed. After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provides support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/trainees in Guinea as compared to all other Africa region programs as a whole, from 2001–2005. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps' classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What if you become a victim of a violent crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-aday, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at [email protected]
Security Issues in Guinea
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Guinea. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities and towns; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions in large towns, for instance, are favorite work sites for pickpockets.
One of the two most dangerous aspects of Volunteer service in Guinea is public transport (the other is malaria). Do not travel in taxis that appear unsafe (during pre-service training, you will participate in a session on strategies for selecting the safest transport option available). In addition, do not be afraid to speak to a driver who is driving too fast or in an unsafe manner; if necessary, ask the driver to stop so you can get out. Risks increase greatly when traveling after dark. Traveling at night should be avoided whenever possible.
You must wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. Observe the rules of the road and avoid traveling at night when possible. Ride defensively, and give way to other vehicles.
Volunteer homes have been burglarized in the past. To reduce the risk of a break-in, assess your house carefully for adequate protection against burglars. It should be equipped with a sturdy door(s), with a strong lock for which only you (and possibly a trusted friend) have keys. Likewise, windows should be protected with locking shutters or antitheft bars. Walls should be intact and sturdy, and the roof should have a ceiling board between the wall and roof to prevent thieves from entering. Peace Corps/Guinea will work with Volunteers to ensure that their housing is safe and secure. In some cases, you will need to use your settling-in allowance to have necessary modifications made to your house. In addition, protect your belongings by putting them away, hiding them, or locking them up. A thief will take valuables lying on a table but may not take time to riffle through a wardrobe or locked trunk for hidden treasures.
To protect your belongings against theft, when in public keep a hand on your bag or backpack and do not wear ostentatious jewelry. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, walk purposefully and vary your route to avoid predictability. Avoid making eye contact with strangers you do not want to engage in conversation. While you should always carry some form of identification, if you have to carry important papers or large sums of money, hide them under your clothing. Finally, avoid being out on the street alone after dark.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to accept responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. Do what you would do if you moved to a large city in the United States: be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Guinea may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention both in large cities and at their sites, but they are likely to receive more negative attention in highly populated centers than at their sites, where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to unwanted attention. Keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. You should always walk with a companion at night.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Guinea
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for addressing safety and security incidents. Guinea’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Guinea office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be provided in Volunteer newsletters and in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions on specific safety and security issues in Guinea. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. Peace Corps staff work closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection is based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; different housing options and living arrangements; and other Volunteer support needs.
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Guinea’s detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Guinea will gather at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, in order for the Peace Corps to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps medical officer. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
DIVERSITY AND CROSSCULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Guinea, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Guinea.
Outside of Guinea’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Guinea are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Guinea, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Guinea
The Peace Corps staff in Guinea recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Female Volunteers who are single are often considered an oddity by Guineans because most Guinean women, particularly in rural areas, are married, some with children, by the time they are 20. Single women also face what in the United States would be considered inappropriate advances from Guinean male colleagues, supervisors, and acquaintances. Strategies to deal with these issues are discussed in training, and the Peace Corps staff can offer help in resolving any problems. These problems become less common once Volunteers have been accepted into their communities and have built a network of female friends and co-workers.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Volunteers who belong to minority ethnic groups will generally not experience overt biases. However, Guineans may make some stereotypic assumptions based on someone’s background. For example, many Asian-American Volunteers are considered experts in Chinese or kung fu, and African-American Volunteers may be mistaken for a Liberian or Sierra Leonean because of an Anglicized French accent.
Caucasian Volunteers may be annoyed by local terms for “white people” such as toubab, porto, or foté, but should understand that they are not pejorative. Even educated, middle-class Guineans are also sometimes referred to by those terms. Once Volunteers become known in their towns, children’s curiosity and name-calling diminish.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Volunteers in their early 20s sometimes find that they have to make an extra effort to be accepted as professional colleagues, since Guineans of the same age often are still pursuing an education. Older Volunteers, in contrast, are automatically accorded respect, since Guinean culture recognizes that wisdom and experience come with age.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers=
Homosexuality is not publicly acknowledged or discussed in Guinean society. Although gay and lesbian Volunteers generally choose not to be open about their sexual orientation, they have successfully worked in Guinea.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Guinea is, for the most part, a Muslim country (the exception is in the Forest Region, where Christians and animists are more numerous). Being of a different religion is not a problem, as Guineans are very tolerant. They may not always agree with your beliefs, but they will not act negatively toward you because of them.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Guinea, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. Physically challenged Volunteers will be treated initially with curiosity. Those who require ambulatory devices will encounter obstacles to mobility because there are no ramps or lifts on public transportation or in buildings. But those who serve will ultimately win respect and be considered role models.
As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, of serving in Guinea without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/Guinea staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Guinea?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits. Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits. The Peace Corps’ allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Under Peace Corps policy, checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds for any one bag. However, in the event the weight and size allowances of the airline are greater than the maximum allowed by Peace Corps you may choose to bring baggage that measures up to the maximum allowable weight and size by the airline. Please note, Peace Corps will only insure the delivery of baggage meeting Peace Corps’ weight and size policy and will not pay for any excess baggage beyond the allowable weight and size issued by the airline. Please contact the appropriate airline for specific baggage details once you have received your travel itinerary from Peace Corps.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (short-wave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. Please check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for a detailed list of permitted and prohibited items at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/ permitted-prohibited-items.shtm.
What is the electric current in Guinea?
It is 220 volts and approximately 50 hertz.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their living expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service. Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects; Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase personal property insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided at the pre-departure orientation, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Although it is not recommended, if you choose to bring with you expensive electronic devices, please be vigilant in your surroundings and operate them in the privacy of your home or work space or in a manner that doesn’t generate much unwanted attention. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Guinea do not need to get an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating privately owned motorized vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to bicycles and lots of walking.
What should I bring as gifts for Guinean friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knick-knacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps sites are assigned to trainees during pre-service training, usually around the fifth week. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their ministry counterparts. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a 10- to 12-hour drive from the capital.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For non-emergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580, extension 2326 or 2327.
Can I call home from Guinea?
Phone service is not available in most of the country, but Volunteers can call home fairly easily from Conakry and periodically from the regional capitals.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
The cellular phone network(s) continues to improve. Currently, there is a company that provides reliable service to many parts of Guinea, including regional capitals and some small towns. If you bring a cellular phone, be sure that it will work on the frequency used in Europe, which is what is used in Guinea.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
The climate and environment in Guinea are very hard on electrical equipment. Additionally, if you do bring a laptop or other electronic device, it will be difficult to keep it charged as the electricity in Guinea is of poor quality and intermittent, if available at all. Electronic devices, especially computers, are also seen as valuable items and may increase the risk of theft. There is Internet and e-mail access at a few places in Conakry, including the Volunteer resource center at the Peace Corps office. All regional work stations have computers, and Internet access might be available from them from time to time.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Guinea and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that everyone has their own priorities. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can also have things sent to you later (although mail is unreliable, and postage from the U.S. to Guinea is expensive). As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that Peace Corps has an 80-pound weight restriction on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Guinea.
In general, you should pack enough clothes to get you comfortably through the three months of pre-service training and use the rest of the space to pack the things that are most important to you. You can have clothes custom-made in Guinea at a very reasonable cost, and there are markets in Guinea with used clothing from other countries.
For women, appropriate work clothing is a dress, pants or a skirt (dresses and skirts must at least cover your knees, even when sitting). Slips must be worn with anything transparent.
For men, appropriate work clothing is a nice pair of jeans or slacks (especially for teachers), a button-down shirt, and nice-looking shoes. Short-sleeved button-down shirts are acceptable, but we recommend at least one long-sleeved shirt because it does get cold during certain times of the year. All clothes should be clean and in good condition. For teachers, T-shirts with writing and jeans are generally unacceptable for the classroom (and these are available in the local market at cheaper prices than in the U.S.).
- Two to three-week supply of cotton underwear
- A few pairs of athletic socks (most of the time Volunteers wear open-toed shoes with no socks)
- Three nice outfits (business casual, possibly one with a coat and tie) appropriate for teaching, conferences, and meetings
- Two pairs of jeans
- Two pairs of casual pants (can be part of the “three nice outfits”; carpenter-type pants are acceptable)
- Two to four T-shirts (easy to buy locally if you need more during your service) in colors that easily match everything.
- One or two long-sleeved shirts
- Three or four pairs of shorts
- One sweatshirt, sweater, or flannel shirt
- Five or more bandannas (for dusty taxi rides)
- A light raincoat
- Two to three-week supply of cotton underwear
- Five to eight bras, including a few sports bras (good bras are unavailable locally)
- A few pairs of socks (Volunteers typically wear open-toed shoes with no socks)
- Three nice outfits appropriate for teaching, conferences, and meetings
- Two or three casual long dresses (cotton is best; sleeveless is ok, but spaghetti straps are not)
- Two or three casual long skirts (that cover your knees, even when sitting)
- One or more pairs of jeans or pants (agroforestry Volunteers tend to wear pants more than skirts, while teachers wear skirts)
- Two to four cotton shirts (can be bought in Guinea)
- Two or three short-sleeved, button-down or polo-type collared shirts (especially important for teachers)
- One sweater, sweatshirt, or flannel shirt
- Two swimsuits (hard to buy in Guinea)
- A pair of long shorts if you plan to participate in sports
- Hats or caps for sun protection
- Five or more bandannas (for dusty taxi rides)
- Two pairs of nice shoes for teaching or dressing up (nice sandals with no heels are also acceptable)
- One pair of sneakers and/or light, waterproof hiking boots (especially useful for natural resource management Volunteers)
- One pair of running/walking shoes
- One pair of sturdy sandals (e.g., Chacos or Tevas) (Note that Peace Corps Volunteers receive a 50 percent discount from Chacos; if you prefer to wait and order them after you arrive, an order form will be made available)
- One pair of comfortable flip-flops to wear around the house and in the shower (note that you can buy all sorts of plastic shoes in Guinea)
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
(all basic toiletries are available in country, but if you are partial to a certain brand/type, please bring plenty of it and definitely bring enough to get through the first three months of training)
- two to four toothbrushes
- At least two tubes of toothpaste
- Mouthwash with fluoride
- Face wash; face scrub or mask
- Moisturizers, lotions
- Shampoo, conditioner, and soap
- Brush and/or comb
- Razor blades (enough for your normal shaving routine)
- Some makeup
- Nail polish and remover
- Sunscreen (this is included in your medical kit)
- Travel toothbrush and soap holders
- Nail clippers
- Pummel stone
- Travel towel
- Feminine hygiene products
- Small bottles of gel hand sanitizer
- Good-quality can opener
- One or two good-quality kitchen knives (paring knife, chef knife, serrated knife)
- Swiss Army-type knife or Leatherman-type tool (remember to pack in checked luggage)
- Garlic press
- Sturdy water bottle, maybe two; (e.g., Nalgene)
- Vegetable peeler
- Plastic food storage containers
- Ziploc type plastic bags (some large, some small)
To make the transition from your diet to rice and sauce easier, here is a list of recommended snacks and condiments to bring.
- Snack bars (cereal, nutrition, energy, etc.)
- Trail mix/dried fruit
- Your favorite sugary snack (gum, candy, chocolate that won't melt)
- Powdered drink mixes
- A good source of protein (beef jerky, tuna, tofu)
- Macaroni and cheese (boxed)
- Any spices you particularly enjoy (many spices are available in-country) Miscellaneous
- Peel-and-seal letters, small padded package envelopes, and U.S. stamps (travelers to the U.S. are frequently willing to hand-carry small envelopes).
- Some pens and pencils
- Frisbee, volleyball, football, etc.
- Playing cards
- Photos from home
- Watch (waterproof)
- Travel alarm clock
- Post-it notes
- Coloring books and crayons
- Art supplies (e.g., markers, colored pencils, glue, glitter, construction paper, sketch books)
- Simple calculator (solar-powered is best)
- Tape player, Walkman, iPod, mp3 player, or CD player with mini-speakers (most music sold in Guinea is on cassettes)
- Tape recorder to record messages and sounds of your new life for friends at home
- Your favorite music and blank tapes (you can buy 60minute blank tapes in Guinea)
- Shortwave radio (best are digital or wind-up type [no batteries]; cheap models are available in-country)
- Camera and film (locally available film costs about $1.50 a roll, but quality varies; most local film developing is of poor quality) Note that it may be difficult to download a digital camera on a regular basis, so be sure to bring an extra memory card (or a card with lots of memory) and appropriate batteries for your camera(s)
- Good-quality small flashlight and/or headlamp with extra bulbs (wind-up [no batteries] models are useful)
- Small alarm clock (essential for teachers)
- Batteries for your electronics and camera (batteries from the U.S. last longer; you might also consider bringing a solar battery re-charger as electricity may be nonexistent depending on your site)
- Personal pictures/photos
- A good book or two (there is also a supply at all regional Peace Corps facilities)
- Calculator (for teachers)
- Musical instrument (if you play one)
- Tape (duct and scotch types)
- Tent, sleeping bag, hammock, and travel mosquito net (a regular mosquito net is provided by Peace Corps for your use)
- Good-quality sunglasses
- A few things that will make you feel happy or luxurious (like foot or face scrubs)
- Pillow (pillows are sold locally, but the quality varies)
- Sewing kit
- Earplugs (if you are a light sleeper)
- Credit cards/some extra money (for vacation travel)
- Something that reminds you of home
- Something that makes you happy
Packing It All
- Hard suitcase/large duffel bag (w/wheels if possible)
- Camping backpack
- School/day pack
- Good-size purse
- Money belt
- Luggage locks/combination locks
A Few Notes
- Check all electronics you plan to bring and be sure to bring spare batteries
- The Peace Corps/Guinea Volunteer libraries are pretty good; you don't need to bring enough books to read for two years.
- Only bring a large supply of toiletries if you are really particular about something, otherwise, you can find everything you need in-country. Do bring enough for your first three months though.
- Limit clothes. Really. You'll probably wear lots of locally made clothing. Clothes are inexpensive in Guinea, and there is a large selection of Goodwill clothing available, including a variety of T-shirts.
- Photos are sensitive to the elements, so choose the ones you bring carefully; make copies or don't bring any you don't want to have ruined or lost. Likewise, it isn't advisable to bring anything you are not willing to lose or have broken. Leave your most precious possessions items at home.
- Don't buy too much, only items you really like. What you don't wear in the U.S. you probably wouldn't wear here.
- You probably won't wear closed-toe shoes often here, or the type of clothes required to teach in the States, but a clean, neat appearance is essential.
- Lastly, don't stress! Have Fun! You'll probably pack some crazy stuff you won't use while you are here, but that's ok—everyone does!
The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone, and the list does not include everything you should make arrangements for.
- Notify family that they can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; after-hours duty officer: 202.638.2574). . Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular passport.)
- Complete any needed dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
- Arrange to bring a six-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while you are away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your healthcare during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have preexisting conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage. If there is a lapse in supplemental health coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
- Purchase personal property insurance to extend from the time you leave your home for service overseas until the time you complete your service and return to the United States.
- Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender or loan service.
- Execute a power of attorney for the management of your property and business.
- Arrange for deductions from your readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.