From Peace Corps Wiki
For the official Welcome Book for Malawi see here
PEACE CORPS / MALAWI HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of Peace Corps in Malawi
The first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Malawi just prior to independence in 1963. Most Volunteers worked on education and health projects, and numbers quickly grew to more than 350 Volunteers. In total, more than 2,300 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Malawi. Under the very conservative Banda regime, the program was suspended for several years due to the “non-conformist” role of some Volunteers, but the program was restored in 1978. Since that time, the program has developed a close working relationship with the government of Malawi.
The change of government in 1994 opened up the possibility of placing Volunteers in rural villages for the first time (under the prior regime, foreigners were not allowed to live at the village level). With the increased flexibility in programming, the Peace Corps began working with counterpart ministries to focus programming efforts and identify more appropriate areas for collaboration at the community level. Currently, there are approximately 100 Volunteers working in the health, education, and environment sectors.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Malawi
Peace Corps/Malawi focuses on three main areas of vital need: health, education, and natural resource management. These projects have evolved over the years based on the needs of the government and communities with whom the Peace Corps works.
Community Health Project
Malawi ranks among the countries most severely affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and is also severely affected by many other serious health conditions. The Peace Corps HIV/AIDS and community health project (CHP) works in collaboration with the National AIDS Control Program and the Ministry of Health to address some of the health issues in rural areas. Volunteers work in areas of AIDS education, orphan care, home-based care, youth and at-risk groups, child survival activities, nutrition, disease prevention, environmental health, and women’s health issues. A few Peace Corps Volunteers work in nursing colleges as educators for health professionals. For many years, Peace Corps/Malawi had the only stand-alone HIV/AIDS project in the Peace Corps, and HIV/AIDS continues to be the cornerstone for health activities.
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 drains family income and forces 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.
Secondary Education Project
Peace Corps/Malawi’s secondary education project (SEP) provides teachers and teacher trainers to community day secondary schools (CDSS), which are community started and supported institutions. Volunteers teach physical science, mathematics, biology, and English. The Malawi educational system has undergone serious stress and deterioration in the past few years. The initiation of free primary education in 1994 has greatly increased the need for schools and teachers. The project emphasizes girls’ education and life skills training and uses community content-based instruction techniques.
Community-Based Natural Resources Management
This project focuses on community-based management of natural resources in protected areas such as national parks, game reserves, and forest reserves. Volunteers work with border communities that want to use protected area resources more efficiently and sustainably. Volunteers’ work is accompanied by the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, income-generating activities, and agroforestry interventions requested by communities bordering parks and reserves. Volunteers work with community groups by helping them to identify and prioritize needs via a community assessment process and then by implementing local projects that address the identified needs. Volunteers also serve as liaisons between parks and wildlife and forestry staff and local communities.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW:MALAWI AT A GLANCE
Malawi is a small country in southeast Africa, and is known for its natural beauty and its warm, hard-working people. The first significant Western contact began with the arrival of David Livingstone in 1859. Fiery sunlight glittering from Lake Nyasa gave the name “Malawi”—land of flaming waters—to an ancient Bantu empire. Present-day descendants revived the name when what had once been the British Protectorate of Nyasaland became independent in 1963.
The country is considered something of a success story in African political development. In 1994, after 30 years of one-party, dictatorial rule dating back to independence from Britain, Malawi quietly and peacefully elected a new government committed to multi-party democracy. In spite of the wave of euphoria over their newly won freedom, the Malawian people continue to face the obstacles of poverty, drought, environmental degradation, hunger, disease, rising crime, and illiteracy on their path to social, political, and economic reform.
Malawi has a parliamentary style of government with the president as the head of state. The president has many powers and sets the agenda for parliamentary debate.
Peaceful presidential elections were held in 1999 and again in 2004, when the current president, Bingu wa Mutharika, was elected. The national government still centrally manages most issues, although strides have been made toward a decentralization of power and greater control at the local level.
Two parties currently dominate the political landscape. President Mutharika’s party is the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which split off from the United Democratic Front (UDF), the party of former President Bakili Muluzi. The Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the party of power during the 30-year authoritarian rule of former President Hastings Banda, is also still very much an active player. The capital has been located in Lilongwe since the mid-1970s. Some governmental entities still remain in the southern town of Zomba, the former capital. With the move of the capital, all ministries, embassies, and support structures for government shifted, so buildings and facilities in Lilongwe are relatively new. Lilongwe has grown tremendously following the move, with a population of roughly 500,000 people.
Agriculture forms the mainstay of Malawi’s economy, accounting for nearly half of its gross domestic product (GDP). Tobacco, tea, and sugar together generate more than 70 percent of export earnings, with tobacco providing the lion’s share (over 60 percent). The agricultural sector employs nearly half of those formally employed and directly or indirectly supports an estimated 85 percent of the population. Malawi has a narrow economic base with little industry and mining and no known economically viable deposits of gemstones, precious metals, or oil. As a landlocked country, transport costs make imported goods very expensive.
Zimbabwe and South Africa are Malawi’s most important trading partners, and the value of the Kwacha, the local currency, is greatly influenced by the economic conditions in those countries. Currently, inflation is running at about 15 percent per year, and economic growth is in the 3 percent to 4 percent range.
People and Culture
Malawi is one of Africa’s most densely populated countries with a population of about 12 million in a land area roughly the size of Indiana. The African population includes six principal tribes. Although there are distinct linguistic and cultural differences among ethnic groups, geographic region tends to be the predominate means of group identification. English is one of the official languages, though it is not commonly used outside major urban centers. More than 50 percent of the people speak Chichewa, the other official language, and almost everyone understands it.
Malawi is predominantly a Christian country, but it also has a sizeable Islamic population, mostly located along the southern lakeshores. Along with the major organized religions, animist beliefs are still strong in many areas of the country, and these beliefs often influence the organized religions as well. Many religions take different forms than what you may be accustomed to, as local cultures and historical beliefs influence the practice.
While living and working in this very conservative society, you will be expected to respect the culture and traditions and tolerate or adapt to the differences you may find.
Malawi is a narrow country that hugs the western shore of Lake Malawi (sometimes referred to as Lake Nyasa). At places, its land area is barely 50 miles wide. Malawi shares borders with Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique.
Malawi’s altitude varies from less than 200 feet above sea level, at Nsanje in the south, to almost 10,000 feet at the peak of Mount Mulanje. Lake Malawi, about 1,500 feet above sea level and 380 miles long, is Africa’s third largest lake and Malawi’s major tourist attraction. Imagine—the lake is larger than the state of New Hampshire! Malawi has rainy and dry seasons. The rainy season is from November to April, with the heaviest rainfall between December and March. The terrain varies widely and includes grassy slopes, rolling hills, striking rock outcroppings, and dense forests.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
We offer a list of Web sites for you to search for additional information about the Peace Corps and Malawi, or connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that links change. We have tried to make sure that all these links are active and current, but we cannot guarantee it.
A note of caution: As you surf these sites, please also remember that you will find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to give opinions and advice based on their own experiences. The opinions expressed are not those of the Peace Corps or the United States government. You may also find opinions of people who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. As you read these comments, we hope you will keep in mind that the Peace Corps is not for everyone, and no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About the Countries:
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Lilongwe to information about converting currency from dollar to kwacha. Just click on Malawi and go from there.
Excellent site for travel books, maps, and general travel information.
This is the U.S. State Department’s website, which issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Malawi and learn more about its social and political history.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments of countries around the world.
This online World Atlas includes maps and geographical information about countries around the world. Each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political backgrounds.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information for countries worldwide.
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. Or skip straight to the Friends of Malawi site: http://home.att.net/~friendsofmalawi
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts from countries around the world.
Online Articles/Current News About Malawi:
News from Malawi’s main newspaper.
A local site with information on related to business in Malawi
International Development Sites About Malawi:
Website for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
Overview of USAID’s projects in Malawi
World Bank website. Search on “Malawi” for several documents related to developmental aid
Site for the Communication Initiative, which includes information on development in general
- Chanock, Martin. Law, Custom and Social Order: The Colonial Experience in Malawi and Zambia. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1985.
- Msukwa, Louis A.H. Meeting the Basic Health Needs of Rural Malawi: An Alternative Strategy. Norwich, England, Geo Books, 1981.
- Rafael, B.R. A Short History of Malawi. Washington, DC, Three Continents Press, 1980.
- Sanders, Renfield. Malawi. (Places and Peoples of the World Series). New York, NY: Chelsea House, 1988.
- Young, A. and Young, D.M. A Geography of Malawi. North Ponfret, VT: Trafalgar, 1991.
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, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, CA: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, WA: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, NY: Picador, 2003.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, NY: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine (ed.). From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, CA: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service we consider normal in the United States. If you bring with you expectations for U.S. standards for mail service, you will be in for much frustration. Mail takes a minimum of two to three weeks to arrive, often longer. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). We do not want to sound discouraging, but when we are thousands of miles from our families and friends, communication becomes a very sensitive issue. We want you to be aware of the reality of mail service in developing countries. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to include “Air Mail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. Packages take six to nine weeks for airmail, and surface mail packages take around six months. If someone is sending you a package, it’s advisable to keep it small and use a padded envelope so it will be treated as a letter.
Despite delays, we strongly encourage you to write to your family regularly (perhaps weekly or bi-weekly) and to number your letters. Family members will typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so please advise your parents, friends, and relatives that mail is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly.
Peace Corps Volunteers in Malawi may receive packages for six months after arrival without paying duty and customs taxes. This privilege is for work-related clothing and household items. Duty may be charged on food and cosmetics. Also, valuable items should not be shipped since they sometimes get lost or held up. If duty is charged, the lower the value—the lower the duty.
Your address during training will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
P. O. Box 208
Once you have become a Volunteer, you will have your mail sent directly to your new address at your site.
Do not expect e-mail or telephone access during training, though the training site does have telephones for emergency use. Generally, long-distance communication via telephone is available but very expensive. Note that calling cards (MCI, Sprint, and AT&T) do not work in Malawi. Alternatively, many Volunteers buy a cellphone locally (if you bring one from the U.S., be sure it can function in Malawi). These also have disadvantages, as there is still not coverage countrywide, and most Volunteers do not have the electricity needed to recharge a cellphone. While telephone communication is possible for Volunteers in Malawi, calling the United States is often a very frustrating experience. Volunteers are encouraged to establish a system of writing letters as the best method of regular communication with family and friends and to schedule periodic calls from family as a special treat.
Having a phone in your house as a Volunteer is very unlikely due to the rural location of Volunteer sites. The Volunteer respite houses in Blantyre and Mzuzu have phones where many Volunteers receive calls from family.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Personal computers/laptops are not needed or recommended, since only a few Volunteers have electricity in their homes. Computers with Word and Excel are available at the Peace Corps office and the two Volunteer respite houses. The three major cities also have Internet cafés.
Housing and Site Location
Volunteers in Malawi are posted from the far north in Chitipa to the far south in Nsanje. Volunteers are almost exclusively posted to rural areas—at health centers, community secondary schools, or in communities surrounding forest or game reserves. Site placement is made during the training period after the staff has had an opportunity to evaluate individual capabilities and strengths. Site placements are determined primarily by work-related needs.
Housing can vary from mud houses with either thatch or tin roofs to fired-brick houses with tin roofs. Most likely, a Volunteer’s house will be comparable to their co-worker’s dwelling. Housing will include basics such as a bed, table, and chairs, but possibly not much more. Each Volunteer will receive an allowance to purchase needed settling-in items. Housing is organized and provided by the hosting site, either by the school, health center, or community. Volunteers do not generally live with families during their two years of service following training, though this is a possibility.
Volunteers might be located anywhere from a half hour to three days from the capital city. Closeness to another Volunteer varies from site to site. Your nearest Volunteer neighbor may be a VSO (British) or JICA (Japanese) Volunteer.
Most Volunteers do not have electricity or running water. Water will likely come from a well, and your evenings will be spent reading by lantern and candlelight. Your flexibility and adaptability will be important as you adjust to these new conditions.
During the training period, trainees stay with a host family and share most meals with their host family. Homestay is considered one of the most important aspects of the training program and is required for this period. Generally, trainees will be placed in a village with three to four other trainees and one to two staff members.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer, you will receive a modest living allowance, paid in local currency, which allows you to live on par with your colleagues and co-workers. The amount for this allowance is based on regular surveys of Volunteers and costs of living in Malawi. The living allowance is paid quarterly into Volunteer bank accounts up-country, so the ability to manage funds wisely is important. Currently, the living allowance is equivalent to approximately $120 per month. Your living allowance is for your food, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, reading materials, and other incidentals. Included in the quarterly allowance is a travel allowance, which should be sufficient for necessary trips to and from Lilongwe from your site for official workshops, medical appointments, and so forth. Like Peace Corps Volunteers worldwide, those in Malawi are expected to live at a level commensurate with that of their Malawian co-workers. You may find that you will be receiving more remuneration than your counterpart or supervisor.
You will also receive a leave allowance (standard in all Peace Corps countries) of $24 per month. This allowance is paid in local currency along with your living allowance.
Volunteers suggest you bring traveler’s checks, cash, and credit cards for vacation travel. Note that it is now possible to access a U.S. bank account with a VISA card at some ATMs in major urban areas (you may draw only kwacha, not dollars). The amount of cash or traveler’s checks that you will need will depend on the amount of traveling you plan to do while serving in Malawi. Only a few local establishments accept credit cards, so they are mostly useful for travel to other countries.
The local currency is Malawi kwacha. The current exchange rate is approximately 135.465 kwacha to the U.S. dollar.
Food and Diet
The staple food in Malawi is maize (corn) prepared as a thick porridge called nsima and eaten with vegetables or beans. Many fruits and vegetables grow in Malawi, and with a little creativity, you can enjoy a widely varied diet. Most Volunteers prepare their own food, although after becoming more familiar with their site assignment, many Volunteers hire someone to help with household work, including cooking. Fruits and vegetables are available “in season,” which means some things will not be available at the market year round. Meat and dairy products are available in the towns, though they can be expensive.
Trainees and Volunteers who are vegetarians will be able to eat well in Malawi after becoming familiar with local food items and their preparation. Most Malawians do not understand vegetarianism and will not normally be prepared to serve a vegetarian meal if you are a guest in their home (even if they themselves do not regularly eat meat because of the expense). However, a sensitive explanation about your preferences will be accepted. Most vegetarian Volunteers have no difficulty once the initial adjustment is accomplished.
Volunteers’ primary mode of transport is public buses and matolas, usually small pickup trucks loaded with people and goods. Buses and mini-buses travel among towns on irregular schedules (i.e., when full), so travel in Malawi is never a timed affair.
Many Volunteers receive a mountain bike to facilitate their ability to do their work. If you ride a bicycle, helmets are required (and provided by the Peace Corps). The bikes we issue are usually men’s-style bikes that can be difficult for females to ride wearing a skirt. Many females wear shorts under their skirt to solve this problem.
Volunteers are not allowed to drive and/or operate motor vehicles or motorcycles (two- or three-wheeled).
Geography and Climate
Malawi is south of the equator, so the seasons will be opposite of those in the United States. In June, July, and August the temperatures will range from 35 degrees Fahrenheit (F) in the higher elevations to 60 to 70 degrees F near the shore of Lake Malawi. The hottest months are October, November, and December. Temperatures will range from 70 degrees F in the high elevations to around 90 to 95 degrees F in the lower elevations. In the cool season, sweaters or jackets are practical. In the hot season, loose-fitting cotton clothes are best. The rainy season starts in November or December and lasts through April. The rest of the year is quite dry, although rain showers are possible throughout the year. At certain times of the year, temperatures can drop to a chilly low.
The geography of Malawi is dominated by Lake Malawi, which stretches down most of the eastern side of the country. The lake is a beautiful setting for many activities and also provides approximately 85 percent of the fresh-water tropical aquarium fish in the world.
Malawi’s first television station began broadcasting relatively recently, and it now offers a few local news segments and programming from South Africa and Europe. There are several radio stations, some of which play popular music. Many Volunteers bring shortwave radios so that they can listen to international broadcasts (BBC, Voice of America, Radio Deuschewella, etc.). Malawi has no cinemas.
The most common form of entertainment is social interactions among friends and neighbors. Some Volunteers visit other Volunteers on weekends and during holidays. We encourage Volunteers to remain at their sites in order to develop relationships with their community, but we also recognize that an occasional trip to the capital and to visit friends is needed as well.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Malawians value appearance, and norms for dress here are much more conservative than in the United States. In the United States, we view our clothes as a reflection of our individuality. In Malawi, your dress is seen as a sign of your respect to those around you. Clothes that are dirty, have holes in them, or are “too revealing” are not appreciated by Malawians. Wearing them will reduce the amount of respect given to you and your effectiveness. If you need to choose between T-shirts and blouses, choose blouses. Pants and shorts for women, while now legal, are not appropriate at work or in public. Men also prefer to wear nicer pants, shirts, and even neckties for teaching school or working in an office.
One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own identity and acting like a professional all at the same time. It is not an easy thing to resolve, and we can only provide you with guidelines. You will be working as a representative of a government ministry, and as such you are expected to dress and behave accordingly. While some of your counterparts may dress in seemingly worn or shabby clothes, this will be due to economics rather than choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their “best.” A foreigner wearing ragged, unmended clothing is likely to be considered an affront.
Adhering to appropriate dress is important in Malawi, and if you have reservations about your ability or willingness to do so, you should evaluate your decision to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. Volunteering to work effectively in another culture requires a certain level of sacrifice and flexibility that can be difficult for some people. We expect you to behave in a manner that will foster respect within your community and reflect well on the Peace Corps. You need to be aware that because certain behavior may jeopardize the Peace Corps program and your personal safety, it cannot be tolerated, and could lead to administrative separation, a decision by the Peace Corps to terminate your service.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction is very high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Perceptions of time are very different from the United States, the lack of basic infrastructure can become very tiring, the host agencies do not always provide expected support in a timely manner, and Malawians generally perceive all Americans as very rich. These are all very common frustrations that Malawi Volunteers experience. The Peace Corps experience is often described as an intense series of emotional peaks and valleys that occur while you adapt to the new culture.
As a Volunteer, you will be given a great deal of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you will ever have. Often you will need to motivate yourself and others with little guidance. You may work for months with little visible impact and without receiving feedback on your work. Development is a s-l-o-w process. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To approach and overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Malawi feeling they have gained more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, your service could be a truly life-altering experience.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be over-emphasized. 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 thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although many Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal safety problems. 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 Malawi. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Pre-service training will provide you with the essential skills needed to successfully carry out your service in Malawi. The skills focus on integrating into your community and developing and implementing an appropriate work plan with your community and counterparts. Training includes five major components: technical training, cross-cultural training, language instruction, personal health and safety training, and the role of the Volunteer in development.
Pre-service training in Malawi is conducted as a community-based training, meaning that the bulk of the training takes place in the community as opposed to in a training center. Community-based training is a more difficult training model in some respects, as the learning environment is real, not artificial. During community-based training, most of your time will be spent in villages and communities similar to where you will be placed as a Volunteer. Your instructors create a learning environment with experiences and meetings designed to allow you to develop the knowledge and skills needed for your work as a Volunteer. Throughout your training, you will live with a Malawian family and work in villages and schools.
Technical training prepares you to work in Malawi by building on the skills you already have and by helping you to develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. Peace Corps staff, Malawian experts, and current Volunteers 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 general environmental, economic, and political situations in Malawi and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Malawian agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them.
You will be supported and evaluated by the training staff throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you will need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community.
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, will help you integrate into your community, and ease your personal adaptation to the 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. Experienced Malawian language instructors teach formal language classes five days a week in small classes of four to five people. Languages are also introduced in the health, culture, and technical components of training.
Your language training will include a community-based approach. You will have classroom time and will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. Our goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills more thoroughly once you are at your site. Prior to swearing in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Malawian host family. This experience is designed to ease your transition into life at your site. Families have gone through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of the pre-service training program, and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Malawi. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
Cross-cultural and community development will be covered to help improve your skills of perception, communication, and facilitation. Topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, and traditional and political structures are also addressed.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You are expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. As a trainee, you are required to attend all medical sessions. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that Volunteers may encounter while in Malawi. Sexual health and harassment, nutrition, mental health, and safety issues are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces risk in your home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and learn 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 which provides trainees and Volunteers with continuous opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills.
During your service, there are usually four training events.
The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
- Pre-Service Training Objective: To provide trainees with the technical, language, and cross-cultural tools to enable them to build a foundation in their communities for successful service in Malawi.
- In-Service Training Objective: To 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.
- Mid-Term Conference (Done in conjunction with technical sector in-service) Objective: To assist Volunteers in reviewing their first year, reassessing their personal and project objectives, and planning for their second year of service.
- Close of Service Conference Objective: To prepare Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service and to review Volunteers’ respective projects and personal experiences.
The number, length, and design of these trainings will be 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 the training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN MALAWI
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Malawi maintains a clinic with two full-time medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Malawi at local, U.S.-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported to either a facility in the region that meets U.S. standards or to the United States.
Health Issues in Malawi
Most of the medical issues in Malawi are also found in the United States, such as colds, diarrhea, skin infections, headaches, minor injuries, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), adjustment disorders, and emotional problems. These problems may be more frequent or compounded by life in another culture. The medical problems specific to Malawi are typical of any developing tropical country. Malaria, HIV/AIDS, schistosomiasis, gastrointestinal infections, typhoid fever, and hepatitis are all common health conditions. Almost all are universally preventable with appropriate knowledge and interventions. Because malaria is endemic in Malawi, taking anti-malarial pills is required of all Volunteers. You will also be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, meningitis, tetanus, typhoid, and rabies.
It is important that you know there are extremely limited counseling options in Malawi, and no therapists are available for extended counseling services. Monitoring mental health conditions is difficult, at best. There are no Alcoholics Anonymous facilities, nor are there any support groups for recovered alcoholics in Malawi. Alcohol is an integral part of many social interactions, and you may receive pressure to drink, as there is little understanding of alcoholism.
Malawi is one of the countries most affected by HIV/AIDS. AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease and concerns all sexually active individuals, regardless of sexual preference. You will receive specific information in training related to HIV/ AIDS and prevention of this disease.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Malawi, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training, you will receive a first-aid kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter.
During pre-service training, you will have access to basic first-aid supplies through the medical officer. However, during this time, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we 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 here, and it may take several months for new 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 officer in Malawi will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Malawi, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept 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 medical diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Malawi include taking preventive measures for the following:
Malaria is hyper-endemic and is present throughout the year and in most of the country. It can kill you if left untreated, so prevention and early recognition of infection are extremely important. It is mandatory that you take malaria prophylaxis, and other preventive measures are strongly encouraged. We will teach you how to do a blood slide to make the diagnosis, and you will learn how to treat malaria.
Rabies is prevalent throughout the region, and you will receive a series of rabies immunizations during your training period.
Schistosamiasis, or bilharzia, is a parasitic infection that is contracted by swimming in infected water. Lake Malawi and most other bodies of water in the country harbor the parasite. You can prevent contracting this parasite by avoiding swimming in known contaminated water. Symptoms and signs of the infection may take some time to develop, so we routinely screen for it at end of service physical examinations.
Many diseases that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These diseases include food poisoning, amebiasis, giardiasis, hepatitis A, dysentery, Guinea worm, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation for Malawi during pre-service training.
HIV is very prevalent in Malawi. In 2005, the National AIDS Commission reported that 14.1 percent of Malawi’s adult population is HIV positive. AIDS is an incurable, fatal disease. This and other (STDs are far more common on this continent than in the United States). Abstinence is the only certain choice for prevention of HIV and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, 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 or other STDs. You will receive more information from your medical officer about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies. 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 your medical officer know immediately of significant illness and injuries.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is a health condition that is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions requiring medical attention, but may also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps medical and programmatic standards for continued service can be met. In Malawi, Volunteers who become pregnant are medically separated.
If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical officer in Malawi 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 first-aid kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that might occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at your Peace Corps medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
Diphenhydramine HCL (Benadryl): 25 mg tablets
Pseudephedrine HCL (Sudafed): 30 mg tablets
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Tinactin cream (Tolnaftate)
Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B ointment
Tetrahydrozaline eye drops (Visine)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (Cough calmers)
Iodine tablets (Water purification tablets)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Insect repellant stick (Cutter’s)
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Oral rehydration salts and Gatorade
Sterile gauze pads
Red Cross First Aid and Personal Safety Manual
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since the time 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.
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 taking duplicate vaccinations, you should 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 predeparture orientation or shortly after you arrive in Malawi. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.
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 anti-oxidant supplements.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, although it might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about your on-hand three-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. 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. To reduce the risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease, we discourage you from using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless their use has been recommended by an ophthalmologist for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, 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 and/or pre-existing conditions might prevent you from re-enrolling 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 Malawi as compared to all other Africa region programs as a whole, from 2000–2004. 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-a-day, 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 Malawi
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 Malawi. You can reduce your risk of becoming a target for crime by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking advance precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions, especially in large towns, are the favorite work sites for pickpockets. The following are safety concerns in Malawi:
In Lilongwe, the capital, there are certain areas where robberies and muggings are more frequent. These will be pointed out to you, and you are advised to either avoid walking in these areas altogether or making sure you are not alone if you must travel through these areas.
The most important safety issue is travel on the roads. Public transport in Malawi is rudimentary to say the least. Vehicles are often in poor condition, overcrowded, and travel too fast. The roads themselves are often in a state of disrepair. It is important to use common sense in these situations, and, if you are uncomfortable, make sure you voice your concern to the driver. Motor vehicle accidents, although infrequent, are the biggest cause of fatalities and serious medical problems among Volunteers.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large 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. In coming to Malawi, do what you would do if you moved to a large city in the United States: be cautious, check things out, ask a lot of 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 Malawi may require that you accept some restrictions to your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention in large cities and in their sites, but receive far more negative attention in highly populated centers where they are anonymous. In smaller towns, “family,” friends, and colleagues will 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 such negative and unwanted attention. Other methods have helped Volunteers avoid becoming targets of unwanted attention and crime. Keep your money out of sight—use an undergarment money pouch. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. In urban areas, you should always take a taxi at night.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Malawi
The Peace Corps’ safety program takes a five-pronged approach to helping you stay safe during your two-year service: information sharing; Volunteer training; site selection criteria; a detailed emergency action plan; and protocols for addressing safety and security incidents. Malawi’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Malawi 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 memoranda 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 to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Malawi. 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 your two-year 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 works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for the Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective role 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 criteria are 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 support needs.
You will also learn about the country’s detailed emergency action plan, 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 Malawi will gather at pre-determined locations until the situation resolves itself or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, in order to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the safety and security coordinator. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner. In addition to responding to the needs of the Volunteer, the Peace Corps 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, our diversity poses challenges. In Malawi, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics considered familiar and commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed.
Outside of Malawi’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What is advertised as “typical” cultural behavior or norms may also be a narrow and selective interpretation, such as the perception in some countries that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Malawi 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 differences that you present. We will ask you to be supportive of one another.
In order to ease the transition and adapt to life in Malawi, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises with who you are 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 will 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 limits. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be the your own.
Overview of Diversity in Malawi
The Peace Corps staff in Malawi 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 cultures, backgrounds, religions, ethnic groups, and ages and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who will take pride in supporting each other and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might A Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
The view of equality between the sexes does not exist in Malawi. Distinct roles and responsibilities are expected to be fulfilled by men and women in Malawian culture. Female Volunteers may often meet extremely conservative attitudes regarding gender equality. Likewise, the behavior of female Volunteers is more often scrutinized and criticized than that of their male peers. Although the Peace Corps emphasizes understanding and sensitivity of other cultures, it will be necessary to occasionally explain and defend why you believe something or behave a certain way. Women and men in Malawi are not considered adults until they marry and have children. This being the case, female Volunteers should expect curiosity from host country friends regarding their marital status and whether or not they have children.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
The average Malawian has never had the opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. If you are black, you are called African. If you are Asian, you are called either Chinese or Japanese. If you are South Asian, you are called Indian. If you are white, you are called British or American. If you are Hispanic, you are called Mexican. The possibility of another ethnicity simply does not occur to Malawians you will meet in the villages. Be prepared to tolerate and repeatedly explain that some terms used in Malawi are considered derogatory in America (e.g., “colored,” “half caste,” or “Chinaman”). It is also important to be aware of the long-standing influence of South Africa. Malawi was one of the only countries to deal openly with the old South African apartheid government, and some of the racial perceptions from that era have influenced Malawian reactions to people of color.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Age also affects how you will be treated. While Malawians traditionally have a reverence for age, Malawi’s legal retirement age is 55. Hence, older Volunteers may be respected for their wisdom, but may find difficulty in being accepted at the workplace. Malawians are especially curious about older female Volunteers. They are puzzled as to why they have no spouse or children, even if they have the pictures to prove otherwise.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers must know that Malawi is still a very conservative society. Many Malawians are in denial that homosexuality actually exists in their culture, and it is technically illegal. Thus any display of your sexuality will be severely frowned upon. Previous Volunteers have decided to serve their time in Malawi under the cloak of silence. It has been expressed by some gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers that if they were to display their sexual orientation, it would have adverse effects on their relationships with their community and co-workers.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Whether you practice a religion or not, you will probably find the Malawian practice of religion different than that in the United States. You will notice how deeply religion is ingrained into the culture just by walking down a city street where signs with religious messages punctuate the front of every third store. Malawians enjoy conversing, and they enjoy religion, so it makes sense that they love conversing about religion. Be prepared to tolerate views very different from your own.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
Malawians with physical disabilities are treated no differently than any other Malawian. They are expected to complete the same work, but perhaps not through the same methods. Ironically, many Malawians consider the fact that you are a Westerner a serious disability to doing any manual work. They do not believe that Americans are capable of strenuous physical labor.
There is little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States. That being said, 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 accommodation, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Malawi without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of service. The Peace Corps/Malawi staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in their training, housing, job sites, or in other areas, to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to Malawi?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limitations, and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limitations. The authorized baggage 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. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight allowance of 70 pounds for any one bag.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave 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. This is an important safety precaution.
What is the electric current in Malawi?
Roughly 230 volt, 50 cycles. We say “roughly” because it may range from 190 volts to 260 volts when it is on. Less than half the Volunteers have electricity at work or at home. Batteries are available; “D” cells are more easily found than “C” cells.
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 expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and travelers checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, plan on bringing the amount that suits your own personal travel plans and needs.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). 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 or travel assistance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. However, such insurance can be purchased before you leave. Ultimately, Volunteers are responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be given to you, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Additional information about insurance should be obtained by calling the company directly.
Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. 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 Malawi do not need to get an international driver’s license. Operation of privately owned vehicles is prohibited. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses to mini-buses to trucks to a lot of walking.
Volunteers sometimes drive while on annual leave during their service. For this reason, we recommend that you bring your U.S. driver’s license.
What should I bring as gifts for Malawian friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include: knickknacks 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 trainees are not assigned to individual sites until after they have completed a portion of their pre-service training. 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, or living conditions. However, many factors influence the site selection process and the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you might ideally like to be. Most Volunteers will live in small towns or in rural villages, but may be within one or two hours from the nearest Volunteer. Some sites may be a 10- to 12-hour drive or even multiple days 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, you should 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 1.800.424.8580, 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 1.800.424.8580.
Can I call home from Malawi?
Yes, but generally only from larger towns. Calls from Malawi to the United States are very expensive. We recommend writing letters and setting up periodic calls from home on special occasions. Phone cards do not work in Malawi, though it is possible to make a reverse charge (collect) call.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
No. The systems are different from those used in the United States. Many Volunteers buy a cellphone in Malawi. However, the costs are very high for service, and the coverage area for cellular phones is limited. Key Peace Corps staff members carry cellular phones to ensure availability at all times for emergency contact.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
There are now cyber-cafés in the three major towns that provide both e-mail and Internet access. At the Peace Corps office in Lilongwe, there is e-mail and Internet access for programmatic needs (finding resources for your work). It is not recommended that you bring a computer, as few Volunteer sites have a stable electrical supply, surges are common, and maintenance and repair options are extremely limited. Also, due to the high value of a computer, owners significantly increase their risk of becoming a victim of crime.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Malawi and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You can always have things sent to you later. You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80pound weight restriction on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Malawi.
The three key qualities for clothing in Malawi are dark colors, many pockets, and easy to wash and care for. Overall, dress conservatively. Remember that it does get cold so bring warm clothes. Rainy season means just that—you will get wet and splattered with mud. We recommend quick-drying, breathable clothes.
- One set long underwear
- Lightweight, all-weather jacket
- Hooded sweatshirt or fleece
- Knit hat and gloves
- Sleeveless dresses and shirts (note that Volunteer teachers cannot wear these in the classroom)
- Swimsuit (one piece); very sturdy
- Bandannas or handkerchiefs
- Sun hat (baseball cap or straw hat)
- Good-quality raincoat
- Heavy-duty poncho and quality umbrella
- Durable, easy-to-wash pants
- Shorts and other clothes like drawstring pajama pants for lounging around (doctor’s scrubs are ideal)
- Women can and do wear trousers for traveling and in the cities
- Teachers need dresses/skirts that go below the knee (no slits above the knee, and not tight-fitting)
- Cotton slips (waist to knee and waist to ankle)
- Men do not need full suit, just a tie and a button-down shirt for special occasions
- Very durable, practical clothes (not nice, dressy clothes)
- Some nicer clothes for in town (dancing, restaurants)
- Lots of underwear, bras, socks
- Heavy-duty sports bra
- Money belt
- shorts (longer, knee-length shorts for women) for biking
- Sturdy work gloves (if you garden)
Overall advice: do not bring a lot. Just three to four outfits for staging and beginning of training.You can find just about everything in the markets.
Durable shoes are an essential investment
- Teva or Chaco sandals
- Sneakers and/or hiking boots (two pairs) (Boots are handy for rainy season)
- Shoes (close-toed and good to stand in all day; for Volunteer teachers)
- House shoes (slippers); you can get flip-flops in Malawi
- Dress shoes
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- Favorite brand of tampon
- Face lotions
- Shampoo (just a 2-in-1 to get through training)
- A few toothbrushes
- Toothpaste (just one for training)
- Hand sanitizer
- Multivitamins (low-concentration vitamins available in-country)
- Razor and extra blades
- Sunscreen (just one to get started)
- Manicure set
- Hair-cutting scissors
- Prescription drugs (three-month supply)
- Heavy-duty non-stick frying pan
- Good knives
- Vegetable peeler
- French press (if you appreciate good coffee)
- Kitchen towels
- Ziploc bags (surplus)
- Plastic containers (e.g., Tupperware)
- Mess kit cooking set
- Set of silverware
- Send foodstuff to yourself before leaving: kool-aid packets, cheese powder packets, power bars, granola bars, soup mixes, gravy mixes, chocolate, etc.
- Sturdy water bottle (e.g., Nalgene)
- Lightweight, travel, waterproof tent w/ground cloth
- Leatherman/Swiss Army knife
- Compact sleeping bag for cold weather
- Indiglo watch
- Bungee cords or backpack straps
- Chair that folds out into sleeping mat (e.g., Crazy Creek or LL Bean)
- Flashlight or headlamp with extra bulbs
- Shortwave radio
- Solar-powered rechargeable batteries with recharger
- Duct tape
- Good envelopes
- Elmer’s glue
- Good dictionary
- U.S. stamps (so you can send letters home with travelers)
- Lonely Planet Guide to Malawi
- Camera (35mm point-and-shoot)
- Field guide for flora and fauna of sub-Saharan Africa
- Seeds for herbs and vegetables
- Battery-powered alarm clock
- Double size, flat sheets and a couple of towels
- Sewing kit
- Personal money (you can keep it in the safe at the Peace Corps office)
- Games (Scrabble, cards, chess, Frisbee, etc.)
- Walkman and variety of tapes (Discman uses much more battery power)
- Musical instrument (harmonica, guitar, etc.)
- A few novels (to swap after reading)
- Hobby materials like sketching pads and pencils
- Day pack
- Luggage (should be tough, lightweight, lockable, and easy to carry)
- Hiking backpacks without frames are practical
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; 24-hour 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 three-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 away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your health care 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 for insurance. This is especially true when insurance companies know you have predictable expenses and are in an upper age bracket.)
- 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.
- Bring necessary banking/routing information for deductions from readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, student loans and other debts. These deductions may be set up after swearing-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.