Difference between pages "FAQS from the China Volunteer Perspective" and "Health care and safety in Costa Rica"

From Peace Corps Wiki
(Difference between pages)
Jump to: navigation, search
m (1 revision imported)
 
m (added Health_care_and_safety_by_country template)
 
Line 1: Line 1:
=== Will an iPhone work in China?===
+
{{Health_care_and_safety_by_country}}
  
Nearly all volunteers buy cell phones and use them as their primary method of communication with others in China. Many US cell phones do not allow you to change the SIM cards so are not useful in China unless you figure out how to unlock them. If you have a phone in which you can change the SIM card, bring it and just buy a new SIM card.
 
  
As far as iPhones go, China is beginning to open up to them, but they are not the same iphones that are sold in the US and other parts of the world. There are restrictions on WiFi which you may have to research on the internet blogs to find out about. Try contacting Apple directly, they may be most helpful.
 
  
===Should I purchase a cell phone before coming to China?===
+
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 Costa Rica maintains a health unit with a full-time medical officer, who takes care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Medical services may include hospitalization at authorized facilities that are located in the capital city. If you become seriously ill or the resources in-country are insufficient, the Office of Medical Services at Peace Corps headquarters may decide to medically evacuate you to the United States for further care or treatment.
  
It may be cheaper and more convenient to purchase a cell phone when you arrive in China.People who purchase phones in America and bring them cannot send or receive Chinese characters. The reason this is important is you can get someone to put directions or locations in characters on your phone and its useful for getting help. Some people who don't have phones purchased here, however, are okay with it. 
+
===Health Issues in Costa Rica===
  
===Should I purchase power converters before coming to China?===
+
Health conditions in Costa Rica are typical of those found in tropical countries. Most illnesses can be avoided by using common sense and following basic preventive measures.
  
The plugs here are made for all types of plug sizes, so don't worry about it too much. If you end up needing one here, you could always go to the local computer center and purchase one for much cheaper than you could in America. Computers should be adaptable to different power currents. You will need a converter for things like an electric toothbrush if they are bought in the US.
+
Because you will be serving in an area where malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, is prevalent, you will be given and required to take an approved antimalarial drug while you are in-country for your entire service. Humidity and heat promote the growth of skin infections, which you can help prevent by keeping your body clean and dry. Environmental pollution, mold, and pollen found throughout the country year-round can aggravate existing environmental allergies. (Because it is very difficult, even in the United States, to identify the causing allergen, the Peace Corps does not provide allergy testing.) Other illnesses that exist in Costa Rica are dengue fever, rabies, tuberculosis, intestinal parasites, hepatitis A and B, and infection with STDs, including HIV/AIDS.  
  
=== What about banking in China?===
+
===Helping You Stay Healthy===
  
Do you use a US debit card?
+
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy.  During training, you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter.
  
Everyone sets up a Chinese account once they get to their site. Most people bank with Bank of China. However, it is good to know that Bank of America and China Construction Bank have some sort of partnership. So if you bank with B of A, you can withdraw funds from your US account without any fees. Chase and other bank cards can also be used at ATMs in China to withdraw money or even check into some hotels, but contact your bank to see if your cards can be used in China. US bank and credit cards are also helpful for travel outside of China. Within China, credit cards are rarely used for purchasing items. Almost everyone uses cash.
+
During training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical officer. However, 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 shipments to arrive.  
  
=== What kind of technology do you have at your work sites?===
+
You will have a basic nurse assessment at midservice and a physical examination for clearance at the end of your service.  If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Costa Rica will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Costa Rica, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Do you have document cameras and projectors in the classrooms? Do students use laptops or computer labs?
 
  
Some people have media classrooms with projectors and computers. Others have only chalk and a chalkboard. It varies. Some students may have their own computers but nothing is guaranteed. Internet cafes are becoming quite popular around China, so it may be likely that somewhere nearby there will be access to computers for students.
+
===Maintaining Your Health===
  
=== Which is better to keep in touch with home and China contacts - a Yahoo or Gmail account? ===
+
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 of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Costa Rica is to take preventive measures for the following:
  
For now, gmail is great and widely used by volunteers. The current conflict with China and Google may create problems with that at some point in the futrue, and I believe gmail was blocked for a bit during the summer of 2009. Yahoo is also easy to use and has not been blocked. Hotmail is also accessible in China. 
+
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper precautions are taken, such as boiling drinking water and washing fruits and vegetables with soap and water. These illnesses include food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Costa Rica during pre-service training.  
Many Chinese use qq to communicate with each other. Some volunteers set up qq accounts. Also, texting is a good way of communicating as many people do not check their email as frequently as we may be accustomed.
 
  
===  How do you communicate with your families and US friends?===
+
Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. 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/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from the medical officer about this important issue.
  
Skype is great. Set up a Skype account and ask your friends and family to as well. Also, most volunteers have cell phones. Friends and family can call for about 10 cents a minute on their end and it is free to receive calls. Also, everyone is required to have a land line at their site. Also, there is something called a "MagicJack," which is a USB that connects a phone through your internet and allows you to call America for free for the first year and renewal after that is $20, which may be cheaper than Skype for calling telephones phones, and you do not pay by the minute.  
+
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an 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.  
  
===  Should I set up a website or is this not a good idea? ===
+
A male Peace Corps Volunteer who fathers a child out of wedlock may be administratively separated if the country director determines that the Volunteer’s action has impaired his ability to perform his assignment or has violated local laws or customs. Absent administrative action, the Peace Corps will pay the prenatal, delivery, and postpartum costs for a non-Volunteer spouse or unmarried partner only if the Volunteer has taken action to acknowledge paternity of the child and only for costs incurred while the trainee or Volunteer is in service. Paternity legislation in Costa Rica states that DNA testing is mandatory when a woman claims a man is the father of her child. If the test establishes paternity, the father automatically must pay child support; if he does not comply, he can be jailed.
  
Peace Corps asks that you notify them of any website/blog type things that you create as they want to ensure that you do not offend the government or your site hosts. You should think of what you post and how it will be perceived by outside readers. You can create passwords to limit this fear but not totally eradicate it. Also, many blogs and other web 2.0 things are blocked. Many people use proxies in order to access these sites, but it makes it a bit more difficult. It seems that wordpress is no longer blocked, but you never know.
+
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office for scheduled immunizations, and that you let your medical officer know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries.  
  
=== I read in the news China is stopping Facebook.  ===
+
===Women’s Health Information===
  
Facebook, twitter, youtube, blogger, and many other user-generated sites have been blocked since the summer of 2009 if not before. You will learn about proxies or personal vpns once you arrive if you don’t know about them and want to be able to access these types of sites.
+
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but 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 during pregnancy can be met.  
  
===What is a good blogging site to use in China?===
+
Feminine hygiene products are available for you to purchase on the local market. If you require a specific feminine hygiene product, please bring a six-month supply with you.
  
Down time is something that is very common as a Peace Corps Volunteer
+
===Your Peace Corps Medical Kit===
and aside from integrating into your community this allows you the
 
perfect opportunity to document your experiences and flourish your
 
creativity through blogging. Each individual that holds a blog during
 
his Peace Corps service will need to post some sort of disclaimer
 
stating something to the fashion of:
 
"The view and opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not
 
reflect the goals or intents of the US government, The Chinese
 
government or The Peace Corps. I alone am responsible for the content
 
of this blog." Likewise you will be required to maintain a "suitable
 
for all readers" approach to your blogging, this will be explained at
 
length during your pre-service training. While Blogger.com is a very common site, it is not the best. Other options you might choose: Wordpress.com; Typepad.com; Livejournal.com, this site is not
 
currently blocked in China; Thoughts.com are the most popular. I
 
suggest Wordpress because it gives you the most options.
 
  
=== What kind of luggage do you recommend - hard side or duffel? I've found light weight bags in both. ===
+
The Peace Corps medical officer will provide you with a kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.  
  
Hard suitcase can be easier and harder. Peace Corps reimburses us for train travel when we are traveling on official business. A roller suitcase works most of the time and is less heavy to carry, but can be hard on stairs, etc. A backpack can be useful for traveling within China and in surrounding countries, especially if you are hopping on buses and trains.
+
====Medical Kit Contents====
  
 +
Ace bandages <br>
 +
Adhesive tape  <br>
 +
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook  <br>
 +
Antacid tablets (Tums)  <br>
 +
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)  <br>
 +
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)  <br>
 +
Band-Aids  <br>
 +
Butterfly closures  <br>
 +
Cepacol lozenges  <br>
 +
Condoms  <br>
 +
Dental floss  <br>
 +
Diphenhydramine HCL 25&nbsp;mg (Benadryl)  <br>
 +
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)  <br>
 +
Iodine tablets (for water purification)  <br>
 +
Lip balm (Chapstick)  <br>
 +
Oral rehydration salts  <br>
 +
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30&nbsp;mg (Sudafed)  <br>
 +
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)  <br>
 +
Scissors  <br>
 +
Sterile gauze pads  <br>
 +
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)  <br>
 +
Tinactin (antifungal cream)  <br>
 +
Tweezers  <br>
  
=== Those packing lists include so many heavy items - is it really advisable to pack kitchen items and books?===
+
===Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist===
  
You can buy most everything you need in China. If you are not in a big city, you can buy things when you go to the PC office in Chengdu or have them sent from home. You also get used to not having everything you did before. If there is one thing you can’t live without, think about packing that. Books are floating around, but not as available as you might like. Ask around to other volunteers and have them sent later if you are really at a shortage. There are also e-readers (like the Kindle), which are more expensive but may be easier to pack. Amazon is also delivering to China now. If you enjoy reading, it may be difficult to find a lot of books in English here that are at a reasonable price in regards to our PC allowance. I have seen some volunteers utilize the Kindle program and purchase books online and read them off their computers. (Apparently with Kindle, as long as you "return" the book within a month, you get your money back.
+
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—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.  
  
If you need something very specific, like certain hair products or lotions that you prefer to use and you wish not to venture into Chinese products, then bring as much as you think you need. For packing, I found the best thing I packed was the stock pile of hair products. I have super curly hair that is difficult to manage, and since Chinese people typically don't have big, curly, frizzy hair, I knew product would be hard to come by.  
+
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.  
  
As far as electronics go, don't worry too much about converters or adapters. Almost everything will work here, and if not you can buy adapters and converters here for much cheaper.
+
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 Costa Rica. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.  
  
=== When are you free to travel or have visitors?===
+
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.
  
The first semester is generally from late August/early September to January 1 or early January. Then there is generally PC training. You are then free until March 1. The second semester starts in March and ends in late June. In between your first and second years of service, volunteers participate in a two week teacher training program. Then you are free from mid July until school starts. This being said, PC has various rules about vacation days that you will learn at the end of PST.
+
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 nonprescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements.  
  
===What is the laundry situation? ===
+
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.
  
Most volunteers have their own washing machines in their apartments. Very few have a dryer, and most people hang their laundry outside to dry. You can buy detergent here; Tide is pretty popular. Something that may be useful, though, is a good stain remover. Dry cleaning is also available in almost all places.
+
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. We discourage you from using contact lenses during your service to reduce your 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.  
  
=== Do you have roommates in your apartment? ===
+
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.
  
No, we don't typically share our apartments with any roommates. In fact, Peace Corps regulations state that we can't have any roommates. There is one exception though, where the school didn't have two apartments for their two Volunteers, but they did have one huge one. So for this one site, there are two Volunteers living together (but they were asked first if they'd be willing and able to do it--- and now they say they can't imagine it any other way).
+
===Safety and Security—Our Partnership ===
  
This is a video that a former China PCV made of his apartment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMie7fugY9U
+
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. Petty 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 83 percent of Volunteers surveyed say they would join the Peace Corps again.  
  
=== What exercise options are available? ===
+
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 information.
  
Most sites have some kind of gym option. You'll pay between 70 and 200 RMB per month for membership, depending on your site. I actually have a gym where I paid 588 RMB ($75) for 12 months. It has treadmills, weights and various exercise classes. I also regularly use my school's track to go running. Some people go running on the streets, but I'm not brave enough for that! (Too many stares, cars and too much pollution.) I have found a yoga class in my community. It is taught in Chinese, so is really my most authentic language experience. It has been nice, but requires a lot of observation on my part.
+
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.  
  
=== Have you had friends/family visit? ===
+
===Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk===
  
Yes! My parents came to visit me this past January. It was kinda hectic preparing for it, finding the flights, getting the visas, etc. But once it was all taken care of, it was great. They were here for only a week, but I think it was enough. My school was so happy to have my parents come visit, they hosted a pretty awesome "banquet" (nice, fancy dinner in a nice hotel) for my parents.  
+
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are in the Volunteer’s control. Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2003, 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).  
  
=== Do you wear contact lenses there or just glasses as they suggest because of pollution? ===
+
* Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings).  Specifically, 47 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
 +
* Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the late evening between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.— most often occurring around 1:00 a.m.
 +
* Absence of others: More than 75 percent of crime incidents occurred when a Volunteer was unaccompanied. 
 +
* Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
 +
* Consumption of alcohol: Almost a third of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
  
Many PCVs wear contacts regularly. But you absolutely should bring the glasses that Peace Corps suggests. Each site has different air quality. If you bring both contacts and the glasses, they you'll have the option to decide for yourself what you're most comfortable doing. Also, because so many people (especially students) need glasses in China, purchasing contact lenses can be cheap in comparison to America; however, Peace Corps will not reimburse for contact lens purchases. I have used both contacts and glasses. That being said, eye infections seem more common here. I got pink eye and the PC doctor asked me about contact use. I had been wearing glasses almost exclusively but have used contact lenses since I was 16, but her response showed her cautiousness with contacts. They are just not common here.
+
===Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk===
  
=== How much luggage did you bring? ===
+
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
  
I brought one big bag with wheels for all of my clothes, books, etc. I also brought backpacker's backpack for long trips here during the holidays. And I brought one school-type backpack that also holds my laptop. This bag is big enough for day trips and weekend trips, so it has also been really convenient. While here, I have bought a couple of bags that I use for my daily commute to school and stuff. They're really cheap.
+
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
  
=== Are feminine hygiene products hard to come by? ===
+
<u>Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft: </u>
  
Tampons are VERY hard to come by typically, but you can find the OB kind in the bigger cities (our regional capital has them in the pharmacies). Pads are the regular commodity here, and are of good enough quality. I personally brought a year's worth of tampons with me from the States, and haven't regretted it.
+
* 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
  
=== Are the students friendly? ===
+
===Support from Staff ===
  
Students are SOOOOO friendly! They are very polite, and maybe a little timid, especially in the beginning. Some students are "too friendly," and PCVs wish they'd be given more space. Other students aren't assertive enough, and some PCVs wish the students would be more proactive in initiating relationships with the PCV.
+
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;
  
=== Have you ever felt under-prepared for the teaching assignment portion? ===
+
Information and Personnel Security; and Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise. The safety and security team also tracks crime statistics, identifies trends in criminal activity, and highlights potential safety risks to Volunteers.
  
I have never felt under-prepared for the teaching assignment, though I do go through waves of thinking I could be doing a better job--- that goes with the territory. Especially when my motivation is low, I think my teaching really suffers. But that is true with most jobs. Typically, the fact that you are a foreign teacher gives you TONS of "street cred" with the students, so you have a lot of leeway. (But if you just don't care about the job, students will pick up on that, and its a pretty bad experience for everyone involved--- this has happened with some PCVs, but the only reason was their own level of commitment to the job). So if you care about being a good teacher, that's enough! Everything else will absolutely fall into place. If you are a first time teacher, you may find that finding your "groove" may be stressful, but again this is no different from adjusting to the demands of a new job. Also, some veteran teachers who are also PCVs are developing a professional support network to support new teachers and serve as a resource for everybody.
+
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.  
  
===What can I pack for my mental health?===
+
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.  
Save room in your luggage for or arrange for shipping of seemingly non-essential items, but which are necessary for you to continue with your hobby. For example, photography equipment, musical equipment, yoga gear, cooking utensils or ingredients, sports equipment, art supplies, or any other supplies necessary. While some of this you can buy in China, sometimes it's nice to have something with a little personal history. Also, don't make all your packing practical, bring a few clothing items that make you feel like “yourself.”  Bringing your favorite toiletries (shampoo, lotion, Glide dental floss) is a nice reminder of home and the PC provided dental floss and local lotions aren't quite the same.
 
  
===What are some common secondary projects, and how do you decide what project to undertake?===
+
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.
  
On a more personal note, as far as secondary projects go, Peace Corps usually encourages volunteers to wait until the second year before getting something really going. However, it really depends on the volunteer and the site they are placed at. Our primary assignments keep us pretty busy. Besides teaching, our primary assignment includes weekly office hours (where students will come to just chat with you) and weekly English Corner (an opportunity for students to practice English with you). At my site, PC has been established over time, and former volunteers had set up a weekly radio show and movie night - so I just picked up right away with these two projects. Early in my first semester, though, some students who had been in the previous volunteer's women's group asked me to reorganize something for the female students, so I did. Some volunteers opt to begin English resource centers at their schools (Mine already has one that was set up by a volunteer 6 years ago, so I am working on updating it,). I have met some challenges though when I tried to branch off and do another secondary project (teaching in the countryside), and my school suggested I wait till my second year. It really will depend on your situation and school. Other volunteers have done things like yoga classes, knitting groups, coaching sports teams, etc. Your Program Managers will be most helpful with this and will address it at Pre-service and In-service training. To be honest, I had ideas of secondary projects coming into China, but when you really assess the needs of your community, perhaps you will find your ideas of a secondary project won't be of much help to the community.  
+
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 Costa Rica as compared to all other Inter-America and Pacific region programs as a whole, from 1999–2003. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.  
  
===What is the typical dress code for PCVs in China? What about facial hair and hairstyles?===
+
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.
  
As far as dress code, you do not need to stock pile your suits. During training, Peace Corps expects you to dress in dress business casual (So for men, slacks and a button down or collared shirt, and the women, something along the same lines). Also, no open back sandals - but to be honest, you probably won't want to wear flip flops out too much because your feet will get dirty). No tie or jacket is necessary on a daily basis. However, bringing a suit or more formal wear for special occasions (like swearing-in, host family dinner, school functions, etc.) would be a good idea. Each school's expectation of dress code is different. Staying with the business casual attire is always safe, but this may be different from one site to the next.
+
The chart is separated into the eight most commonly occurring assault types. 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).  
  
PC China may send you some strict requirements to follow upon arrival. But once volunteers arrive at site they generally find a more lenient situation. Facial hair really doesn't seem to be so much of a problem as long as you keep it clean. Most Chinese men do not wear facial hair, but as long as PCVs keep the facial hair cleaned up, it doesn't seem to be a problem. Hair-wise, you can have whatever style you want, as long as you keep it professional. A bit shaggy is ok, but keep in mind, being here, people will judge you on appearance (or at least talk about it), and most people are traditional and conservative. So, all in all, keep your style as long as you feel like you can wear it professionally and does not compromise your sense of self.
+
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.  
  
===How do current PCVs handle isolation and loneliness?===
+
===Security Issues in Costa Rica===
  
Isolation and loneliness are things that many of volunteers in China find are the most difficult to deal with. As a teacher, your schedule will fluctuate a lot, so if you have hobbies you like to stick with, then make sure you bring whatever necessary to keep your hobbies alive. Some volunteers keep themselves busy with language study, or other projects they pick up along the way in China. Some volunteers spend extra time outdoors or with students, pick up Tai Chi, travel, etc. From what I hear, downtime and alone time are 2 things PCVs all over the world have to get used to, but always have a back up plan to keep you occupied when you need. However, China is not a place where you will run out of options as far as new hobbies goes, it just depends on your drive. Even if you want to pick up a new instrument, there are instrument stores all over the place. Language isolation can be difficult. Learning Chinese requires a lot of work, and we spend a lot of time speaking English. Think about how you will tackle language learning and whether it is important to you to communicate with people besides your students and Chinese English speakers.
+
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 Costa Rica. 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; 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.  
  
===Can I find contact lens solution in China?===
+
The most common safety risks to Volunteers in Costa Rica are petty crimes like pickpocketing, theft, robbery, and simple assault. Aggravated assault, sexual assault, and rape also occur, as in any other place in the world, so Volunteers must avoid unsafe environments and situations.
  
Contact lens solution is available, as contacts (or "invisible glasses" as they call them here) are becoming more common. Perhaps in more developed areas, like big cities, this can be found in eye glass stores. Peace Corps, however, does not cover the cost of contact lens expenses.
+
===Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime===
  
===How do you get around? How is public transportation?===
+
You must be prepared to take on a large degree of 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 Costa Rica, do what you would do if you moved to a new 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 Costa Rica may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
  
Public transportation is quite convenient in most places. The bus systems are pretty efficient, and you are never too far from a bus stop. From city-to-city, common forms of transportation are bus and train (and airplane, if you happen to be in a rush). Depending on the location, the bus lines cut off in the late evening. Taxis are commonly seen, however, on a volunteer's salary, it may be better to utilize the bus system whenever possible. Some people by bikes. PC requires that you were a helmet, not common in China, and they supply it.
+
Volunteers attract a lot of attention in large cities and at their sites, but they are likely to receive far 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, the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. 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.  
  
[[Category:China]]
+
===Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Costa Rica ===
 +
 
 +
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. Costa Rica’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
 +
 
 +
The Peace Corps/Costa Rica 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 to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Costa Rica. 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 works 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/Costa Rica’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 will receive instructions from the Peace Corps about the appropriate action to take. This might include gathering with other Volunteers at a predetermined location 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.
 +
 
 +
[[Category:Costa Rica]]
 +
[[Category:Health and Safety]]

Revision as of 00:48, 13 March 2009


Health care and safety in [[{{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |5}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |6}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |7}}]]
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer and trainee. Medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative approach to disease.

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.

  • [[Packing list for {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |5}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |6}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |7}}]]
  • [[Training in {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |5}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |6}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |7}}]]
  • [[Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |5}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |6}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |7}}]]
  • [[Health care and safety in {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |5}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |6}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |7}}]]
  • [[Diversity and cross-cultural issues in {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |5}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |6}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |7}}]]
  • [[FAQs about Peace Corps in {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |5}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |6}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |7}}]]
  • [[History of the Peace Corps in {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |5}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |6}} {{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |7}}]]
|6}} [[Image:Flag_of_{{#explode:Health care and safety in Costa Rica| |5}}.svg|50px|none]]}}

See also:
Pre-Departure Checklist
Staging Timeline
The Health of the Volunteer The Safety of the Volunteer


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 Costa Rica maintains a health unit with a full-time medical officer, who takes care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Medical services may include hospitalization at authorized facilities that are located in the capital city. If you become seriously ill or the resources in-country are insufficient, the Office of Medical Services at Peace Corps headquarters may decide to medically evacuate you to the United States for further care or treatment.

Health Issues in Costa Rica

Health conditions in Costa Rica are typical of those found in tropical countries. Most illnesses can be avoided by using common sense and following basic preventive measures.

Because you will be serving in an area where malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, is prevalent, you will be given and required to take an approved antimalarial drug while you are in-country for your entire service. Humidity and heat promote the growth of skin infections, which you can help prevent by keeping your body clean and dry. Environmental pollution, mold, and pollen found throughout the country year-round can aggravate existing environmental allergies. (Because it is very difficult, even in the United States, to identify the causing allergen, the Peace Corps does not provide allergy testing.) Other illnesses that exist in Costa Rica are dengue fever, rabies, tuberculosis, intestinal parasites, hepatitis A and B, and infection with STDs, including HIV/AIDS.

Helping You Stay Healthy

The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. During training, you will receive a medical 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 training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical officer. However, 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 shipments to arrive.

You will have a basic nurse assessment at midservice and a physical examination for clearance at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Costa Rica will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Costa Rica, 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 of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Costa Rica is to take preventive measures for the following:

Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper precautions are taken, such as boiling drinking water and washing fruits and vegetables with soap and water. These illnesses include food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Costa Rica during pre-service training.

Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. 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/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 an 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.

A male Peace Corps Volunteer who fathers a child out of wedlock may be administratively separated if the country director determines that the Volunteer’s action has impaired his ability to perform his assignment or has violated local laws or customs. Absent administrative action, the Peace Corps will pay the prenatal, delivery, and postpartum costs for a non-Volunteer spouse or unmarried partner only if the Volunteer has taken action to acknowledge paternity of the child and only for costs incurred while the trainee or Volunteer is in service. Paternity legislation in Costa Rica states that DNA testing is mandatory when a woman claims a man is the father of her child. If the test establishes paternity, the father automatically must pay child support; if he does not comply, he can be jailed.

It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office for scheduled immunizations, and that you let your medical officer know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries.

Women’s Health Information

Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but 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 during pregnancy can be met.

Feminine hygiene products are available for you to purchase on the local market. 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 will provide you with a kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.

Medical Kit Contents

Ace bandages
Adhesive tape
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Band-Aids
Butterfly closures
Cepacol lozenges
Condoms
Dental floss
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Scissors
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Tinactin (antifungal cream)
Tweezers

Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist

If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—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.

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 Costa Rica. 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 nonprescribed 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.

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. We discourage you from using contact lenses during your service to reduce your 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. Petty 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 83 percent of Volunteers surveyed 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 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 in the Volunteer’s control. Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2003, 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, 47 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
  • Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the late evening between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.— most often occurring around 1:00 a.m.
  • Absence of others: More than 75 percent of crime incidents occurred when a Volunteer was unaccompanied.
  • Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
  • Consumption of alcohol: Almost a third 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; and Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise. The safety and security team also tracks crime statistics, identifies trends in criminal activity, and highlights potential safety risks to Volunteers.

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 Costa Rica as compared to all other Inter-America and Pacific region programs as a whole, from 1999–2003. 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 the eight most commonly occurring assault types. 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.

Security Issues in Costa Rica

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 Costa Rica. 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; 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.

The most common safety risks to Volunteers in Costa Rica are petty crimes like pickpocketing, theft, robbery, and simple assault. Aggravated assault, sexual assault, and rape also occur, as in any other place in the world, so Volunteers must avoid unsafe environments and situations.

Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime

You must be prepared to take on a large degree of 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 Costa Rica, do what you would do if you moved to a new 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 Costa Rica may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.

Volunteers attract a lot of attention in large cities and at their sites, but they are likely to receive far 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, the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. 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 Costa Rica

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. Costa Rica’s in-country safety program is outlined below.

The Peace Corps/Costa Rica 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 to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Costa Rica. 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 works 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/Costa Rica’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 will receive instructions from the Peace Corps about the appropriate action to take. This might include gathering with other Volunteers at a predetermined location 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.