From Peace Corps Wiki
For the official Welcome Book for Samoa see here
PEACE CORPS / SAMOA HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Samoa
In 1967, after experiencing a difficult year and a devastating cyclone, Samoa invited the Peace Corps. The first Volunteers worked in rural villages, leading health and hygiene projects for Samoa's Department of Health. These early Volunteers remain well-known for the introduction of water seal toilets, now affectionately called fale Pisikoa (Peace Corps houses).
The next groups to follow were civil engineers, architects, accountants, statisticians, and economic planners who served in various central government departments. One early Volunteer was the architect and construction supervisor for the present Parliament building at Mulinu’u and the supporting offices of the Legislative Assembly.
Volunteers also had a significant impact on infrastructure development, such as the Faleolo International Airport terminal and school buildings. Some took up prominent, executive positions in various government departments, such as acting directors of Public Works.
In healthcare, Volunteers have served as researchers in filariasis control (filariasis is a parasitic disease caused by a blood nematode), and they have worked at the National Hospital as nutrition educators and dietitians. Other Volunteers have worked as small business advisors and as youth development workers.
While Volunteers have served in most sectors and departments during the 40-year history of the Peace Corps in Samoa, the largest numbers have served in the Department of Education as classroom teachers and advisors. Peace Corps Volunteers have taught and been involved in educating tens of thousands of Samoan children. They have helped build the capacity of local teachers by serving in classrooms for two years, allowing Samoan teachers to attend the National University of Samoa full-time, enhancing their education and teaching skills. Volunteers have taught in a variety of subject areas, including science, business, mathematics, and computer studies. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and other Samoans are happy to share stories about their favorite Pisikoa who taught them in school or lived with their family. To date, more than 1,760 Volunteers have served in Samoa.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Samoa
Having worked for several decades on building the capacity of educators in Samoa and wanting to focus on other project areas, the education project was graduated in December 2003.
In June 2001, in cooperation and partnership with the Government of Samoa, Peace Corps/Samoa began two new projects: village-based development (VBD) and capacity building (CB). The VBD project includes the Future Farmers of Samoa (FFS) program and an integrated coastal management (ICM) initiative, while the CB project includes information and communication technology (ICT), special needs education (SNE), and mentoring in technical and professional areas (MTPA). These projects remain the core of the Peace Corps’ development assistance to Samoa.
In the VBD project, Volunteers work with rural communities to help them articulate their common vision for the future and to assist them in identifying their assets, mobilizing local resources, and accessing additional services to help them achieve their vision. As part of these efforts, Volunteers often facilitate, with their village counterparts, the design and management of small-scale projects in numerous sectors, including health, agriculture, youth, and income generation. Volunteers with the Future Farmers of Samoa project are helping make agriculture a profession of first choice in Samoa. ICM Volunteers work with various local organizations and communities to incorporate marine education and awareness into science classes, develop environmental projects, and assist with the monitoring and protecting marine resources.
ICT Volunteers work primarily in schools and sometimes in offices as teachers, teacher trainers, curriculum developers, network programmers, systems administrators, and systems analysts. SNE Volunteers build understanding and skills in the schools and communities of Samoa for students with special needs and in early childhood and inclusive education. MTPA Volunteers work with local development agencies and government ministries on strategic planning, capacity building, program design and management, and systemizing day-to-day operations.
In 2006, Peace Corps/Samoa updated its vision to the following:
A dynamic community service-focused post, working in partnership with Samoa to achieve its vision by identifying and initiating new, enhancing current, and graduating sustainable programs, through the support of well-trained, safety-oriented, adaptable Volunteers in meaningful assignments committed to building understanding and capacity.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: SAMOA AT A GLANCE
The modern history of Samoa began with the arrival of John Williams and his team from the London Missionary Society in 1830. British, German, and American consulates were later established in Apia. By the 1890s, Samoa was divided between Germany and the United States. The former administered Western Samoa, while the latter retained control of Eastern Samoa, now known as American Samoa.
When war broke out in Europe in 1914, the New Zealand military forces occupied Western Samoa. In 1919, the League of Nations granted New Zealand a territorial mandate over Samoa. In 1946, Samoa was made a United Nations Trusteeship under New Zealand. In 1961, a plebiscite showed overwhelming support for independence and on January 1, 1962, Samoa became an independent nation.
Samoa’s Parliament is modeled after the British Westminster system. The country has a head of state, whose current appointment is for life. The House of Representatives has 49 members, voted in through universal suffrage (since 1992). From independence until 1992, matais—men and women who hold chiefly titles—were the only citizens eligible to vote. Members represent their constituencies for a term of five years. For the last 20 years, the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has dominated the local political sphere with a scattering of opposing political parties.
Samoa’s economy is agriculturally based—primarily on the cultivation and exportation of crops such as cocoa, copra (dried coconut), and bananas. Taro, formerly the main cash crop, is making a comeback following the taro leaf blight of the early 1990s. The fishing industry has become an extremely important part of the export economy in the past few years. Additional income is gained through small-scale factories with products such as electrical components and parts, beer and soft drinks, cigarettes, and garments. Tourism is a growing sector, which may soon replace all of the above areas in terms of overall economic importance. Finally, remittances from Samoans living overseas play a considerable part in Samoa’s economic growth and development.
People and Culture
The Fa’a Samoa, or the “Samoan Way of Life,” is the dominant social force. Samoan life revolves around the family group, called the aiga, which includes a wide group of relatives by blood, marriage, or adoption, that acknowledges one person as the head—the matai. A matai is the holder of a title, either a high chief or a “talking chief”—an orator. Relations and interactions within the family are governed by love, respect, and reciprocity. The Samoan family is a communal entity where work, success, and reward are shared and revered by all. There are specific roles played by each member of the family, especially in regard to the upkeep and welfare of the family. Males do the more physical work such as cultivation of the land and fishing. Women do the domestic chores (e.g., cooking, keeping the house and lawns neat and tidy, and weaving).
The islands of Samoa lie about 1,600 miles northeast of New Zealand and about 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii. The narrow coastal plains on the four inhabited islands support most of the people, while the rugged interiors are covered by dense rain forests. The islands are protected by coral reefs and lagoons. Sea breezes temper the tropical climate, and temperatures average about 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Samoa has a wet season from November to April, and cyclones can occur during this time of the year. The cooler, dry season is from May to October. Although rain is an almost daily event, most of the 115 inches of annual average rainfall occurs between October and March.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
We offer a list of websites for you to search for additional information about the Peace Corps and Samoa or to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that links change. We have tried to make sure 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
Visit this site to learn all you need to know about Samoa.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Learn more about Samoa's 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 background.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This Yahoo site hosts a bulletin board where prospective Volunteers and returned Volunteers can come together.
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local Volunteer activities.
This site is known as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web Ring. Browse the Web Ring and see what former Volunteers are saying about their service.
Read current news about Samoa, contact returned Volunteers, and learn more about the Pacific.
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.
This site is maintained by the Michigan Technological University’s Peace Corps Master’s International (MI) Program Coordinators, who are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) and faculty members on-campus. Peace Corps Volunteers in the field and RPCVs who are affiliated with the MI Program at Michigan Tech make regular submissions to this site. Submissions include information about countries of service and day-to-day life as a Peace Corps Volunteer, as well as synopses of technical projects and links to technical resources that are helpful to Volunteers in the field.
Online Articles/Current News About Samoa
Provides links to Samoan news, weather, and cultural information, along with brief language lessons.
This site’s theme is “Bringing Samoans Together” and has links to various Samoa-related sites.
The online link to Samoa’s main daily newspaper. Note that the site is updated intermittently.
Website for the Pacific Islands Development Program (PIDP), offering daily news reports about the Pacific region.
Australia National University's virtual library containing links to global resources about the Pacific region.
This is the official site for the Samoa Meteorology Division. Weather reports for Samoa are updated several times daily, and the site includes highlights of current weather-related news from the Pacific region and worldwide.
International Development Sites About Samoa
World Health Organization
http://www.australianvolunteers.com/home Australian Volunteers International
Japan International Cooperation Agency
United Nations Development Programme, including links to the United Nations Volunteers Programme
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
South Pacific Regional Environment Programme
- Alailima (Calkins), Fay G. Aggie Grey: A Samoan Saga. Honolulu, HI: Mutual Publishing Company, 1988.
- Anderson, Charles R. Melville in the South Seas.Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1966.
- Beaglehole, John C. The Exploration of the Pacific (3rd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1983.
- Calkins, Fay G. My Samoan Chief. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1971.
- Figel, Sia. Where We Once Belonged. New York, NY: Kaya Press; Kaya Press edition, 2003.
- Stevenson, Robert Louis. In the South Seas. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., reprinted 1998.
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Banerjee, Dillon. So You Want to Join the Peace Corps: What to Know Before You Go. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2000.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, N.Y.: Picador, 2003.
- Herrera, Susana. Mango Elephants in the Sun: How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, N.Y.: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, Calif.: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS ANDVOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Your mailing address as a trainee is:
“Your Name,” PCT
Private Mail Bag
Your address remains the same throughout your Volunteer service. Outgoing mail from Samoa to the United States leaves on Tuesdays and Fridays every week. Incoming mail from the United States to Samoa arrives on Mondays and Thursdays. An office messenger picks up Peace Corps mail on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week, and then places it in Volunteer boxes in the hallway outside of the resource center. Mail for Volunteers on the island of Savai’i is taken over once a week.
Mail transit between the United States and Samoa (and vice-versa) averages two to three weeks. Family and friends should be forewarned that the postal workers in the U.S. may get confused between Samoa and American Samoa. If the post office wants to include a zip code with the address, then chances are the item will be sent to American Samoa and may or may not eventually make it to Samoa. Adding “Western” or “Independent” in front of “Samoa” often helps to cut down on the confusion.
During training, telephone access is possible, usually with a local village telephone. When in Apia, you can use the telephone at the training hotel or at the Peace Corps office for receiving calls and for making local and collect calls.
Collect calls from Samoa to the United States and abroad are quite expensive. If making a collect call, Volunteers usually relay the number to which the person can call them back directly. Rather than making collect calls, except in an emergency, Volunteers normally make arrangements ahead of time via e-mail, letter, or previous phone conversation with family and friends on a date, time, and number to call them in Samoa.
Overseas phone cards do not work from Samoa. There is, however, an international call center in Apia where you can buy phone cards and make direct calls to the U.S. Internet calling cards and Internet calling are the least expensive option when it comes to conversing.
There have been recent, major improvements to cellphone service, and a majority of Volunteers now have a personal cellphone with good service. Cellphones are available fairly inexpensively in-country, or a SIM-card ready phone from the U.S. can be brought and a phone number acquired in Samoa. Most Volunteers receive phone calls from overseas easily, and can even text message back home. Volunteers are responsible for all related expenses.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Computer, Internet, and e-mail services are available at local Internet cafés in Apia, which trainees and Volunteers can access when they are in town. Computer and limited Internet and e-mail access are also available at the Peace Corps office once trainees become Volunteers. Many Volunteers bring their own laptop computers, but if you bring one, you will need to take steps to protect it from humidity and power surges, which occur often in Samoa. Vacuum-seal space-saving storage bags, such as the Space Bag, can come in handy for storing and protecting the computer from humidity and can double as an overnight bag for short trips. Storing your computer with a dehumidifier can also be a life saver if your computer is prone to failure in high humidity. Since the tropics are hard on appliances, many Volunteers pay extra for a good warranty on their laptops or other expensive appliances so they can get them repaired or replaced when they later return to the U.S. Theft may also occur. For this reason, it is recommended that you purchase personal articles insurance for your computer and any other items of value. The Peace Corps is not responsible for personal belongings.
Housing and Site Location
All Volunteers are provided with adequate and safe housing. As part of their contribution to having a Volunteer, host country agencies and/or communities must provide adequate housing.
Capacity-building Volunteers live in houses provided by the Samoan government or a local nongovernmental organization (NGO). Most Volunteers in Apia share a house with another Volunteer or, in some cases, a Samoan counterpart. All houses in and around Apia have electricity and running water. All houses in the urban area have indoor toilets and showers.
Volunteers working in the village-based development project, either live in a room with a Samoan family or in a small house on a family compound. Volunteers in this project need to be prepared to live with or very close to a family for their entire two years of service. This is a requirement of working in the project. Most (but not all) villages have electricity. Most (but not all) villages have running water within the family compound, but not necessarily inside of the house.
Most village houses will have flush toilets, but a few will have water seal latrines. Living with a family enables Volunteers to gain important insights into the Samoan culture and helps to minimize safety and security concerns. You will likely develop a love and respect for your Samoan family and an appreciation for having a second family away from home.
Living Allowances and Money Management
Every trainee and Volunteer has a local bank account where their monthly living allowance is deposited. Presently included in the living allowance payment is $24 each month for leave allowance. Volunteers accrue two days of vacation time for each month of active service after being sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Since the amount of the vacation leave allowance is legally fixed in dollars, it must be adjusted monthly to the local currency. Therefore, the amount may vary slightly, reflecting a change in the exchange rate. ATM machines are available in Apia at the Westpac Bank where you will have your account. Your living allowance is sufficient to cover the purchase of food, transport, other essentials, and some entertainment for the month. You are encouraged to live on the living allowance provided to you by the Peace Corps. Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as their local counterparts so additional money you choose to bring with you from the U.S. should be reserved for vacation travel, not day-to-day living expenses.
Food and Diet
Those living in or near Apia have a greater choice of foods: fresh meat, vegetables, fruits, and seafood. Rural areas have less in the way of fresh foods, but canned, dried, or packaged foods are readily available. Locally grown foods (e.g., papayas, bananas, taro, and breadfruit) and fish are generally available everywhere. The staples—rice, flour, sugar, salt, and bread— are relatively inexpensive. Butter and meat are also reasonably priced. Beans, tomato paste, tomato sauce, sour cream, cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt are available in the main towns, but may be more expensive. Good-quality powdered milk and high-temperature treated milk in boxes that have a long shelf life are available and are reasonably priced.
Vegetarians are sometimes challenged in Samoa, but it is possible to remain a vegetarian and eat a healthy diet. In Apia, you can do pretty well, as cheese, granola-type cereals, peanut butter, and fresh vegetables are available. Tofu is also available sporadically, but tends to be expensive. Thus, it serves as a nice treat, but not necessarily a regular source of protein. Six different kinds of beans (soy, black, kidney, garbanzo, lentils, and split peas) are usually available, but they can be expensive. Grains readily available are oatmeal, brown and white rice, and barley. A few of the bakeries make whole wheat and whole grain breads, and pasta is readily available and affordable. Ice cream bars, salsa, fancy salads, nuts, and other goodies can be found, but like other imported items, they tend to be more expensive. When initially getting settled into a host family situation or receiving an invitation to a gathering, vegetarians find that patience and understanding go a long way. Although they may have explained to their hosts what they mean by vegetarianism, they may find that they are still served foods with canned or fresh fish, soups made with meat broths, or eggs and vegetables fried in lard or meat drippings. Having a stash of peanut butter and crackers in your room or at the training site for those early adjustment days can help as longer-term strategies are developed.
The Peace Corps issues bicycles to Volunteers who need them as a principal form of transportation. A bicycle helmet is issued to all Volunteers who receive a bicycle. Helmet use is mandatory. Buses in Apia are fine, reasonably priced, and fairly quick. Most run from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Buses to rural villages are often crowded and generally uncomfortable, but usually reliable. Taxis are plentiful, and the fare can be split between riders. Volunteers are not allowed to drive a vehicle during their service, except in rare job-related or vacation situations. (This requires the country director’s advance written approval.) Motorcycle use is not permitted.
Buses in rural Savai’i are usually unpredictable. Volunteers who plan to travel to the main town and wharf area of Salelologa early in the morning for shopping or travel to Apia must allow at least two hours before the normal departure time, in case the bus leaves before the scheduled time. Also, ferries sometimes leave early, especially during the peak public holidays when they get crowded quickly.
Volunteers living and working on the island of Manono-tai are required to carry life jackets with them every time they travel to and from Manono-tai to any of the other Samoan Islands. If Volunteers are planning to engage in deep-sea fishing or other water-related activities, they must inform the Peace Corps medical officer or safety and security coordinator and obtain a life jacket in advance. Failure to do so may result in administrative separation.
Geography and Climate
May through October is considered the cool, dry time of year in Samoa. Temperatures drop by an average of a few degrees, and it only rains a couple of times each week. Nighttime temperatures during this period are generally very pleasant.
The rainy season begins in November, and you can expect some rain almost every day. Luckily, much of the rain comes at night. The temperatures are not that much higher than during the cooler season, but the additional humidity can be intense as can be the direct sunlight. People tend to avoid being out in the heat of the day. Cyclones (hurricanes) can also occur during the rainy season, although Samoa does not lie in the normal path of Pacific cyclones. On average, one to two cyclones hit every 10 to 11 years. The rainy season also brings occasional spells of hot and humid weather with little to no wind—especially at night. However, the southeast trade winds help cool the islands for most of the year.
Village life is generally relaxed. The men go to the plantations in the early morning, while women tend the house and children, wash clothes, and gather shellfish at low tides. Families rest in the heat of the afternoon. In the late afternoon, fishing, yard work, sports, and food preparation take place. Evenings are filled with prayer meetings (lotu), choir practice, easy conversation, bingo, evening strolls, dominoes, and the ubiquitous card game—suipi. Apia, on the other hand, works on a schedule of 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. Few shops are open outside of these hours. Sundays are incredibly quiet in Apia, with most people attending church services and enjoying Sunday afternoon to’ona’i (traditional umu feast) with their families. Only a handful of stores, bakeries, restaurants, and movie rental places open for a few hours. Employment in the numerous businesses, shops, and government offices provides people with an alternative to fishing or working on the family plantation. In the evenings and on weekends in Apia, people rent movies to view at home or go to Magik Cinemas, dine at local restaurants, walk on the seawall, and dance at local clubs.
Social activities in the village and Apia also center around families, the church, and the village (most Samoans living in Apia still maintain close relations with their villages). Some important social activities for Samoans include preparing for a wedding or funeral; opening a church or school; playing cricket, rugby, soccer, or volleyball; hosting visiting village members or dignitaries; learning traditional songs and dances for festivals and celebrations; and playing bingo for leisure and/or fundraising for the church.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
A lot is said by the way you dress. To rephrase an old saying, “A new book is judged by its cover.” Follow your co-workers’ examples. Appearance is an issue that can easily get in the way of building trust and credibility within your community. Clothes for office, school, and village meetings are along the lines of slacks or the local lava lavas (wraparound skirts) and sport shirts rather than jeans, cut-offs, and T-shirts for men. Women are expected to dress modestly. Knee-length or longer skirts and dresses are appropriate, as are short-sleeved shirts rather than tank tops or sleeveless shirts. Normal common sense works well in the village. Dress should always be modest, as your appearance reflects not only on you, but also on your host family. For female trainees and Volunteers, immodest dress (by Samoan standards) could lead others to misread your intentions. Clothes in Pacific styles can be made inexpensively by local tailors and having clothes made in-country can be a source of enjoyment as you can choose your own fabrics and designs.
As far as male/female relationships go, you should exercise caution. The term “friend,” or uo, usually denotes something far different in Samoa than what it typically means in the States. In a village, you should not have friends of the opposite sex stay overnight in your home. If they want to visit you, it is best if your Samoan neighbors make arrangements for their sleeping accommodations. Your neighbors may be curious to know just who your overnight visitors are, and there will always be talk about your lifestyle. Privacy in the U.S. sense does not exist in the villages. Remember, everybody knows everyone’s business here.
The lifestyle of a female Volunteer in Apia is not as confined as it is in a village, but it still calls for sound judgment in culturally sensitive matters. The various nightclubs in the area may be an attraction to you, but do not go to or leave them by yourself. The best policy is to be in the company of at least one male friend or a small group of men and women. Bars can present sticky situations where tact is a useful tool. Some specific strategies in this area will be discussed during pre-service training. Samoa provides the perfect setting for living in the proverbial fishbowl. Your own personal discretion in keeping with your role as a Peace Corps Volunteer and good judgment in culturally sensitive areas should enable you to live in reasonable harmony within the Fa’a Samoa.
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 overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal safety issues.
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 at staging and in Samoa. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although individual work situations may be as varied as Volunteer living conditions, there are several important threads of commonality. The influences of New Zealand and Australia affect life and work in Samoa. Thus, Volunteers working in government departments or offices will encounter New Zealand/Australian administrative systems and procedures. Volunteer teachers find themselves teaching Australian/New Zealand-oriented curricula. Some Volunteers have supervisors who are expatriate personnel contracted from the British Commonwealth.
Most Volunteers are faced with the frustration of limited equipment, materials, supplies, and lack of funds to repair the equipment that is available. Lack of trained or skilled counterparts also causes concern among many Volunteers. In cases where counterparts are available, different attitudes toward work can be frustrating. However, what may appear to be apathy on the part of some co-workers may actually represent embarrassment from not fully understanding the concepts or rationale in a certain task.
If you are a village-based development Volunteer, you will be challenged and sometimes frustrated by living with a Samoan family. Your privacy and individualism will probably be compromised, and you will be expected to participate in family activities and share in family expenses.
Samoa is a country that benefits from high remittances from abroad. As family members living overseas send money home, families can often purchase Western goods or items that are expensive on the local market despite the lower salary levels in-country. This often causes a disparity in standards of living, and oftentimes gives the superficial appearance of wealth. Like most places around the world, there is a difference in lifestyles and living conditions between the capital and rural areas.
Are there rewards for Volunteers who sacrifice so much? Of course there are! Among them are learning to speak Samoan, becoming intimately familiar with another culture, and making friends with people whose life experience is vastly different from your own (including other Peace Corps Volunteers and Volunteers from other nations). You will also be playing a role in the development of another country, and, of course, will achieve some level of personal satisfaction in knowing that you were able to meet the unique challenge of two years of Peace Corps service in Samoa.
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Pre-service training will provide you with the essential skills needed to successfully complete your Peace Corps service. The skills focus around integrating into your community and developing and implementing an appropriate work plan with your community and counterparts. Training includes six major components: technical training (covering life and work) and the role of the Volunteer in development, language training, cross-cultural training, health training, safety and security training, and diversity training.
A community-based training model is the backbone of pre-service training for all new Volunteers in Samoa. This means that living and learning successfully in a local host community is an integral part of our training program. This is a more difficult training model in some respects, as the learning environment is real. 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 will set up the 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 Samoan family and work in villages and schools. Married couples will be housed together during training.
This training prepares you to work in Samoa 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. The Peace Corps staff, Samoan 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 Samoa and strategies for working within such a framework. There will also be discussions on your role in the development process. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Samoan agencies and organizations that requested Peace Corps’ assistance.
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 host community, and will ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings. Therefore, language training is at the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer. Experienced Samoan language instructors teach formal language classes five days a week in small classes of four to five people. The Samoan language is also introduced in the other components of training as well.
Your language training will incorporate 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 to learn the language. 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 Samoan 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 Samoa. 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 entry, assets mapping, and 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 Samoa. Sexual health, nutrition, mental health, first aid, and safety and security issues are also covered. You will also be given any necessary immunizations to help prevent prevalent infectious diseases in Samoa. Bring any immunization records that you may have with you.
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 or harassment and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Diversity training during pre-service training focuses on understanding diverse groups within American society and how that diversity impacts your success and satisfaction as a Volunteer in Samoa. It aims to increase understanding among diverse groups within the United States and to help you to find respectful and effective relationships with each other, with Peace Corps staff, and with host country nationals.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides trainees and Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. During your service, there are usually three training events. The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
- In-service training: Provides 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-service conference: Assists Volunteers in reviewing their first year, reassessing their personal and project objectives, and planning for their second year of service.
- Close-of-service conference: Prepares Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service and reviews their respective projects and personal experiences.
The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted to country-specific needs and conditions. The key to the training system is that training events are integrated and interrelated, from the pre-departure orientation through the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by the Peace Corps staff, Volunteers, and host country agencies.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN SAMOA
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 Samoa maintains a clinic with a full-time and a backup medical officer, who together take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Samoa at two local hospitals (one private, one public).
During your service, if you become seriously ill or in-country medical services cannot provide further medical treatment that you may urgently require, the medical officer in Samoa will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Samoa, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Health Issues in Samoa
The main health issues in Samoa for Peace Corps Volunteers are diarrhea, skin infections, and infections and discomfort related to the upper respiratory system. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have also been on the increase in Samoa, thus HIV/AIDS awareness and STD prevention are emphasized.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary immunizations, medications, and information to stay healthy.
Upon your arrival in Samoa, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of pre-service 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, 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.
Volunteers are required to have a health evaluation at mid-service (one year into service) and a medical examination at the end of service. You are also entitled to a dental examination at mid-service and at close of service. (As dental facilities are limited in Samoa, Volunteers may, with prior approval of the medical officer, have this checkup while in the U.S. or other country if traveling off island on vacation leave.)
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept a certain amount of responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” 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 Samoa include taking preventive measures for skin fungus, heat rash, cumulative exhaustion, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal illnesses.
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.
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, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation for Samoa during pre-service training.
Abstinence is the only absolute preventive measure of HIV/ AIDS 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/AIDS 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.
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. The majority of Volunteers who become pregnant are medically separated. Feminine hygiene products are available at local markets, but if you require a specific feminine hygiene product, please bring your own supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a medical kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that might occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at your Peace Corps medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Chlorine tablets (for water purification)
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts and Gatorade
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
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 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, you should contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it with you to Samoa. If you had 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 shortly after you arrive in Samoa.
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 pair with you so you have a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace one pair only, 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 eye care with 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. You will probably spend a lot of time outdoors so also pack a good pair of ultraviolet sunglasses. It is well-known that prolonged exposure to the sun and ultraviolet rays increase the risk of eye disease.
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. If you have any doubts or questions about what is covered or not, however, please consult with the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age and/or preexisting 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 Samoa as compared to all other Inter-America and Pacific (IAP) region programs as a whole, from 2002–2006. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy. To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows: The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps' classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What if you become a victim of a violent crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-aday, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at [email protected]
Security Issues in Samoa
You will come to Samoa with all the safety knowledge you have gathered over the years and with all the common sense with which you are blessed. In Samoa, you will be faced with new, barely understood social and cultural boundaries, which can be frustrating and confusing. But remember, personal safety is a learning process. As you learn the culture and meet host country nationals and other Volunteers from groups before yours, you will learn new personal safety skills and how and when to use them. For example, one Volunteer suggests: “Befriend as many people and families as possible. The more friends you have, the less likely someone will mess with you. I’ve found that my Samoan friends are very protective of me. They always watch out for me and are very concerned with my safety.”
Personal safety involves looking at yourself and your lifestyle in a different way; it means seeing yourself as Samoans will see you, and then adjusting your lifestyle to promote your safety in your new community. While Samoa has always been considered one of the safest countries in the world, it would be a mistake to be lulled into a false state of security. Some of these risks can be complicated by misunderstandings and misinterpretations that occur when different cultures interact.
Peace Corps/Samoa has designed and implemented training sessions to raise trainee and Volunteer awareness in several areas of concern. These include housing security; bicycle safety and helmet policy; vehicle policy; alcohol and safe drinking; going out and nightlife; illegal use of drugs and misuse of prescription drugs; verbal, physical, and sexual abuse; physical assault and rape; natural disaster preparedness, especially related to cyclones; water safety; HIV/AIDS and other STDs; gender issues and relationships; and knowledge of important Peace Corps policies as well as aspects of the local legal system and laws that affect Volunteers.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
Given all the precautions and all the necessary warnings provided to trainees and Volunteers, this training can only be effective if individuals make themselves aware of safety issues and adopt a safety-conscious lifestyle. Do not let common sense wilt with the tropical sun—it is your most important tool in making the most out of the two years you have here. Be practical as you take measures to make yourself safe, just as you would do in the United States. These measures include ensuring that your house is secure, developing relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps’ policies and procedures.
Inevitably, Volunteers can attract a lot of attention, both in and outside their community. The more negative aspects of that attention are likely to occur outside their host community where host family, friends, and colleagues are not always present to look out for them. During these times, Volunteers must rely on themselves and should adopt methods to avoid being a target. For example, while whistles and exclamations are a fairly common experience for female Volunteers, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to such negative and unwanted attention. Other methods include keeping money out of sight—use an undergarment money pouch, such as 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.
The Peace Corps takes a firm stand against excessive alcohol consumption and drug use. Most safety incidents involving Volunteers in bars, nightclubs, or in their homes are alcohol- or drug-related. To avoid such incidents, Volunteers are strongly advised against excessive alcohol consumption. Additionally, the Peace Corps has zero tolerance for drug use. Failure to comply with Peace Corps’ policies can result in administrative separation.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Samoa
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. Samoa’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Samoa office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be offered in Volunteer newsletters and in memoranda from the country director or safety and security coordinator. 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 Samoa. 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 technical, language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. Peace Corps staff work closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for 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 Samoa will gather at predetermined 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 Peace Corps safety and security coordinator or the medical officer. 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 CROSS-CULTURAL 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, socioeconomics, 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 Samoa, 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 here.
Outside of Samoa’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What is viewed as “typical” cultural behavior or norms may 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 Samoa 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. To ease the transition and adapt to life in Samoa, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions 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. Although Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, the challenge will ultimately be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Samoa
The Peace Corps staff in Samoa 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, sexual orientations, 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
Sexual harassment can occur to both women and men anywhere in the world. However, there is no arguing that female Volunteers are more prone to be targeted. Women can be verbally harassed and have unwanted sexual advances made toward them at work, on the road, and in public places. It is important for Volunteers to realize that they are not alone or isolated. Volunteers are trained in methods and apprised of existing policies that will allow them to deal effectively if they become a target of such harassment.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Volunteers of color contribute a lot in educating Samoans about the diversity of American society. It would be untrue to say that “racism” does not exist in Samoa. Asian and African-American Volunteers have experienced racial remarks or comments being leveled at them in one instance or another. Most of the remarks can be innocent enough, born out of ignorance and misunderstanding perhaps resulting from how Americans of color are represented in the media. Helping Samoans to remove the stereotype that all Americans— especially Volunteers—are white does help a great deal.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Being a senior Volunteer may offer additional challenges to Peace Corps service. However, older Volunteers have served admirably and have overcome these challenges. A concern for some senior Volunteers worldwide has been accommodation and transportation. It is important for all Volunteers to remember that the amenities offered in most housing will be very basic. Moreover, transportation is also basic and limited to the use of public transport (often on crowded buses), a bicycle, or walking. However, Samoa has adequate transportation infrastructure in terms of good roads and site accessibility. Another concern for some senior Volunteers prior to service is language acquisition. Rest assured that if you are interested and willing to try, the Peace Corps training staff will work closely with you to overcome that hurdle.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
It is currently illegal for anyone to engage in homosexual behavior in Samoa. Legal authorities have noted that many of Samoa’s civil laws are dated and have been since the country became independent in the 1960s. Having said that, in general, most Samoans tolerate and accept gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers. We have not received any negative reports or had complaints lodged against such Volunteers. However, most Volunteers opt to remain closeted to the Samoan community, and are able to be freely out with the Peace Corps community including Volunteers and staff. As long as Volunteers are discreet, their sexual preference should not have a negative impact on their Peace Corps service.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Since Samoa is a Christian country, Volunteers may face the tag of being non-church going or an atheist if they do not attend church on Sundays. Sunday observance in Samoa is enforced, especially within the villages. Volunteers, despite their religious beliefs or affiliations, often find that participation in certain church services or activities, like singing in the choir, are useful for community integration and can be viewed as another aspect of the cross-cultural experience. For those who do not attend church services, you should refrain from any activities outside or inside the home that may be interpreted as being disrespectful of the holy day.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
Volunteers with disabilities may receive stares of curiosity as some Samoans may fail to realize that staring is inappropriate. The Government of Samoa has put an emphasis on increasing services for people with disabilities and on improving education for students with special needs. These efforts are beginning to lead to greater awareness, understanding, and positive change.
The Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, of performing a full tour of Volunteer service in Samoa without unreasonable risk to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Samoa staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Couples will be housed together during training and service in Samoa. Nevertheless, they may face their own set of issues during training and service. While couples will do many activities together, they should be prepared and willing to work on separate projects and assignments. These may require one of the spouses to commute to another village or site during the day or even to stay at a separate location for a few days at a time.
Couples should consider how varying degrees of enthusiasm about Peace Corps service, adaptation to the physical or cultural environment, and homesickness will affect their lives. A husband and wife may have to deal with changed marital roles due to societal expectations. A married man may be encouraged to take on a more dominant role in the relationship, while a married woman may find herself in a less independent role than she is used to. This may create tension for a couple at work (e.g., a wife being expected to perform “traditional” domestic chores instead of working) and at home (a husband being ridiculed for performing domestic tasks or for refusing to have extramarital affairs). Finally, responding to and coping with competition (e.g., one spouse learning more quickly than the other) or differences in job satisfaction may also be issues couples should consider before beginning their service.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to Samoa?
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 50 pounds for any one bag. Volunteers who choose to go with the airline allowances over the Peace Corps allowances do so at their own risk and expense. In some cases, they may end up getting more through, but in other cases, they may end up getting charged excess fees. Technical and reference books and other heavy printed material you may not need right away can be sent ahead by surface mail for $1 (U.S.) per pound. Allow three to six months, and pack securely.
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. Please check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for a detailed list of permitted and prohibited items at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/ airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm.
What is the electric current in Samoa?
240 volts. Anything electric from the United States must have a transformer to change the local 240-volt, 50-cycle electricity to 110-volt output safe for appliances.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. Volunteers receive a modest living allowance that is paid out in the local currency. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler's checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, 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 pre-service 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, you will receive insurance application forms and we encourage you to consider them carefully.
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 Samoa 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. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a sponsor’s vehicle, but this is only with prior written permission of the country director. Should this occur, the Volunteer may obtain a local driver’s license. Your U.S. driver’s license will facilitate the process, so bring it with you just in case.
What should I bring as gifts for Samoan friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement, but you will want to bring things to give your family at the end of training. 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; T-shirts or hats; pens, pencils, markers, crayons and coloring books; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; picture frames; 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 their pre-service training. This gives the 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 will have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, or living conditions.
However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that 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 will usually be within 30 minutes to an hour from the nearest Volunteer.
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 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 the Pacific country desk staff by calling 800.424.8580, extensions 2522 or 2523.
Can I call home from Samoa?
Peace Corps Volunteers can call the United States from the Peace Corps office or from the hotel that you will stay in when you arrive. Following your initial arrival, you will be able to call home as there are several vendors in Apia that sell calling cards, which you can purchase to make calls from Samoa to the United States. Remember, that calls, especially collect ones, from Samoa to the U.S. are expensive.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
There have been recent changes to local cellphone service and there are currently two service providers. You can bring a SIM-card-ready phone from home or purchase one inexpensively in-country. Service is pre-paid, fairly inexpensive, easy to acquire, and text-ready. However, most Volunteers find that they have to cut back on cell phone time, and usually text message or make extremely brief calls to each other to stay in touch. Most Volunteers regularly receive calls from overseas with very little trouble.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
There are several Internet cafés where you can access the Internet. Internet services are becoming more widely available. Internet is even available in the computer centers of some rural villages and schools. Peace Corps/Samoa provides a general e-mail address for Volunteers ([email protected]), which is available on a shared Volunteer computer for limited hours during the day. However, browsing the Web will have to be done at one of the local Internet cafés. If you believe that a laptop computer will be helpful to you—both in personal and work matters—then bring one. Many Volunteers find their laptop to be one of the most important items both for work and entertainment. Be sure to seriously consider purchasing personal articles insurance to protect your equipment.
There are some suggestions for packing, generated by Volunteers serving in Samoa. You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have items sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. As mentioned earlier, Volunteers who choose to go with the airline allowances over the Peace Corps allowances do so at their own risk and potential expense. Remember, less is often more, and you can get almost everything you need in Samoa. Use this list as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list!
Keep in mind also that what you bring probably will not make it back to the U.S., so don’t bring anything you would be heartbroken to lose.
Clothes should be lightweight, easily washable, quick drying, and the less ironing, the better. Cottons or cotton blends are cooler and more comfortable than nylon or other synthetics. Synthetics do not breathe, hold in moisture, and create breeding grounds for bacteria and fungi. Don't bring leather items (e.g., shoes or journals) because they get moldy quickly. "Business casual" clothes in the U.S. and in Samoa are slightly different. Business casual clothes for Samoa take into account the ever-present heat, humidity, and sweating. Modesty and neatness are important. Business casual clothes, especially closed-toe shoes, will probably be used only at staging or be tucked away for potential vacations to colder-weather climates. Lightweight U.S. business casual clothes and nice sandals can be useful to Volunteers assigned to offices and for church functions until they have a few Samoan outfits made.
For work and formal occasions, women wear puletasis, which are a fitted blouse and long skirt, while men wear button-down shirts with a lava lava (wraparound skirt). For other everyday use, especially in the villages, a neat T-shirt and lava lava are worn. Please note that clothes can be made or purchased inexpensively in-country. (A lava lava ranges from around $3 to $10 (U.S.) and puletasis start around $30 and go up depending on the quality of fabric and style.) Also, there are a few secondhand stores where clothes can be purchased cheaply ($1 to $3). Therefore, when trying to make the luggage weight limits, do not stress over clothing, less in terms of clothing is the way to go.
Following are some suggestions for both men and women:
- Two pairs of flip-flops (inexpensive ones can be purchased in-country).
- One pair of sport sandals (e.g., Teva, Keen, Old Navy, etc.) or reef shoes.
- One pair of comfortable sandals (good for more formal occasions; dress shoes and close-toed shoes are not necessary as they are rarely, if ever, worn in-country).
- One or two pairs of running/walking shoes.
- One pair of boots (recommended only for avid hikers and for those in professions who feel they may need them, such as carpentry, metal working, or fieldwork).
- A few pairs of socks (for use with running shoes and boots; they are not really needed on a daily basis with flip-flops and sandals).
- One or two belts (not leather).
- Five to six pairs of modest shorts (knee-length preferable; cargo shorts work well; a few pairs of biker shorts are useful for wearing under lava lavas; Umbro-type shorts are good for wearing over swimsuits, especially for women).
- One long-sleeved shirt for breezy evenings.
- Warm clothes—if you plan to travel to New Zealand or Australia (some Volunteers have these shipped to them when they need them or they can be purchased cheaply at secondhand stores in Samoa).
- Athletic clothing appropriate for your sports and leisure preferences. Rash guards are recommended for surfers and integrated coastal management initiative (ICM) Volunteers.
- Two or three towels (the quality is not the same as in the U.S.; one chamois-type towel is convenient for carrying around in your backpack when traveling).
- Good sun hats are a must here. The sun is very strong.
- Umbrella (these are preferable to rain jackets, which get too hot, and can be purchased cheaply in Samoa).
- Bring a few work outfits. Summer dresses or mixed tops and bottoms are best. Dresses and skirts should be at least knee-length (mid-calf to ankle-length are better).
- Women rarely, if ever, wear pants in Samoa, especially in professional and village settings. They do sometimes wear them under lava lavas and in informal settings (e.g., playing sports, going to a beach picnic, or shopping in Apia). A pair or two of lightweight pants (such as capris or khakis) and/or a pair of jeans (if you normally wear them in hot, humid weather) should prove sufficient for informal occasions. Business casual dress pants are not worn and unnecessary to bring along.
- Four to six T-shirts for around the house and non-work occasions (dark colors are recommended as they do not show the dirt and stains as much).
- Nicer T-shirts, which cover the shoulder, for casual work situations and running errands, are also useful to mix and match with skirts and lava lavas.
- Tank tops are not worn in most professional settings and many villages, but a couple of them may come in handy for the beach and other informal occasions.
- Two-year supply of underwear and bras. Bras wear out very quickly here. Cotton sports bras work best; avoid synthetic fabrics. Boxers work well under lava lavas. (Packing half of the underwear and bras in a sealed bag and opening after a year helps to preserve the elasticity from being eaten away quickly by the humidity.)
- One half slip or one long slip (for white puletasis).
- One or two swimsuits (one-piece recommended; no bikinis unless you plan to vacation off-island).
- One or two outfits for going out to restaurants or nightclubs occasionally in Apia or while on vacation.
- Two or three light- to medium-weight pants (khakis or similar type). Men wear lava lavas here all the time so do not worry about pants too much.
- Three or four short-sleeved collared shirts (polo or button up-types)
- One short-sleeved, white dress shirt can come in handy for church functions, although you can get one in-country or may be given one by your host family.
- Four to six T-shirts for around the house and non-work occasions (dark colors are recommended as they do not show the dirt and stains as much).
- One tie for formal occasions (primarily for church-related functions). These can be purchased in-country.
- Two-year supply of underwear. Cotton boxers are recommended and bring plenty as they are hard to find here. (Packing half of the underwear in a sealed bag and opening after a year helps to preserve the elasticity from being eaten away quickly by the humidity.)
- Undershirts are handy for wearing under white church clothes, but otherwise are not worn often.
- Two dark-colored swimsuits (loose-fitting trunks are recommended; no Speedos) Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
You can find most toiletries and necessities in Samoa, but if you prefer certain brands, bring them with you. Deodorant is widely available in-country, but the quality varies, so you may want to bring some extras with you or have some mailed later on down the line. Tampons are available in the capital, Apia, but at prices slightly higher than in the United States.
Lotion, baby powder, and leave-in conditioner are useful. Lotion often has SPF in it; plus, with the sun you will be getting, it will keep your skin from getting leathery. Baby powder absorbs moisture. Diet, stress, and humidity can result in thinner hair, so leave-in conditioner will help keep sunned hair moist and healthy; it can also be a de-tangler. These items can be found in Samoa, but usually at higher prices than in the U.S., and the quality varies.
Shaving in Samoa can sometimes be dangerous. Rainwater tanks are happy homes for bacteria like strep. Moving water is less likely to have these bacteria. Shaving with water from tanks can also result in boils. It can be challenging to find good-quality razors in-country, and replacement blades for U.S.made razors can be costly. Consider bringing an ample supply. Papaya, which are plentiful in Samoa, work as a mild depilatory.
Contact lens solution, for those authorized in advance by the Office of Medical Services to bring along contacts, is available in-country, but very expensive, so bring lots of extra solution with you. Alcohol gel solution is nice, especially if you wear contacts. This will help prevent eye infections, especially for Volunteers living in villages, where hand soap is not always available.
Individually wrapped antiseptic/antibacterial wipes (like those you would get at a restaurant) are great to keep in your pocket or purse, as hand soap is not always standard in bathrooms, kitchens, etc.
Volunteers can get sunscreen from the Peace Corps medical officer, but if you have a favorite brand bring it. Waterproof sunscreen is also recommended.
Quality hair ties and clips can be difficult to find here, so bring plenty of extras if you use them.
Most items can be found in Samoa, but are generally expensive and/or of poor quality. Food items (fresh fruits and meats cannot be brought through customs) should be double bagged and air tight. Ants and humidity can get into almost anything.
- Tupperware (useful for storing food. GladWare can be purchased in Apia, but higher-quality Tupperware is expensive.)
- Specialty cooking items and utensils (basic cookware can be bought in Samoa)
- A good kitchen knife, and perhaps a knife sharpener (be sure not to pack them in your carry-on bags)
- Vegetable peeler
- Nonstick skillet
- Spices are generally available here, but if you have a favorite mix bring it. Specialty spices are hard to find, and spices overall can be pricey.
- Can opener
- Ziploc bags (various sizes)
- Favorite recipes and/or cookbook
- If you drink coffee, bring a small French press and a couple bags of your favorite brand. Most coffee here is instant, and the "fresh-ground" is not quite up to Starbucks’ quality.
- For tea drinkers, there is plenty of standard black tea, but green, oolong, and herbal teas can be hard to find.
- If you are a big fan of chewing gum, bring a few packs of your favorites, but be sure to bring the kind in plastic containers, rather than paper wrappers, as the humidity can cause gum to mold.
- Drink mixes (e.g., Kool-Aid, Crystal Light, iced tea mixes, etc.), though some are available locally.
- Dried fruits like raisins, dates, and cranberries are around, but hard to find and expensive; fancier items like dried apricots are rarely available.
- Peanuts are readily available, but any other kind of nut can be expensive and hard to find. If nuts are essential to you, ship some yourself or ask someone to send you care packages every now and then.
- Rechargeable batteries (AA and AAA) and charger. This is practically a must. Batteries go quickly here. The ones you can purchase at the markets are not of the same quality, so they do not last very long. (Some Volunteers suggest IC3 rechargeable batteries, which can be purchased at RadioShack or Target. They charge in 15 minutes, and can be recharged thousands of times.)
- Converter and adapter for 220V (same as New Zealand). Converters are used to convert U.S. electronic devices, which run on 110V to 220V. Adapters are used to plug items into the walls not to convert the voltage. Check all of your electronics so you know which ones need converters.
- Laptop computer. Computers are a great tool, and one with a DVD player is even better. You can rent DVDs here or borrow from other Volunteers. There are computers available in the Peace Corps offices, so it is not necessary to purchase a laptop specifically for coming to the Peace Corps.
- Digital camera. This is preferred to a regular camera as film is expensive and gets moldy in the humidity; developing photos is also expensive. There is no need to purchase a digital camera, but they can be nice to have. Samoans (even ones you do not know) love their picture taken and will ask you to take theirs. With a digital camera, you can delete unwanted pictures without wasting film.
- Silica gel packs. For anything electronic, especially computers, get some of these (camera shops often carry them). These will help keep your electronics from getting ruined in the humidity. Gel packs also help keep moisture out of wood-based musical instruments.
- Cassette, CD, or MP3 player and speakers.
- Battery-powered AM/FM radio and/or shortwave radio. (available here, but expensive).
- Blank CDs (and/or cassettes, if bring a cassette player). These are useful for making copying other CDs, digital photos, work documents, etc. (these are available here, but expensive).
- USB key. Very useful for transferring documents and sharing photos; also great for traveling due to their compact size.
- Flashlight. Volunteers suggest Mag-lite brand as they outlast the humidity pretty well. Avoid cheap plastic ones.
- Headlamp. Some Volunteers find these very useful.
- Travel alarm clock
- Small bag for weekend or overnight trips
- Swiss army knife/Leatherman tool (remember not to pack this in carry-on)
- Wristwatch (water-resistant)
- Locks for luggage
- One or more boxes of pens (pen quality is poor here)
- Sharpies, magic markers
- Sunglasses with strong UV protection
- Favorite music
- Sturdy water bottles (e.g., Nalgene)
- Games, cards, Frisbee, hobby equipment, etc.
- Arts and crafts supplies
- Musical instruments
- Address book
- English Bible to read at church (avoid leather covers)
- Paperback English dictionary and thesaurus
- Duct tape
- Putty (to use for mounting pictures)
- Basic tools (available here, but expensive); Allen wrenches very useful for bikes
- Lightweight quilt (believe it or not, once you acclimate it can actually get chilly at night)
- Dryer sheets (keeps stored clothes from smelling of mildew)
- Bed sheets (twin or double twin size; available in-country, but expensive and different quality than in the U.S.)
- Pillow (available in-country, but quality varies). Avoid foam pillows; the ants love them.
- Snorkeling gear (consider a rash guard if you plan to spend a lot of time in the water; it also helps protect you from getting sunburned and coral scrapes)
- Travel sewing kit
- Safety pins
- Calendar/daily planner
- Books. Mail them via M Bag at the post office before you leave (even a month or two before, which should arrive by the time you swear in). The Peace Corps office has a large library of books for you to use as well.
- Magazine subscriptions
- Pictures of your family, friends, and home (very important—your new Samoan friends will want to see what your family is like)
- Toys for kids (quantity, not quality; available at local dollar stores in the U.S., e.g., crayons, coloring books, balls, playing cards, board games, etc.)
- Maps (e.g., world, USA, your state). These are perfect teaching tools; oftentimes free at AAA)
- Picture frames (make great gifts for a host family)
You will probably exchange gifts with your host family at the end of training. Expensive gifts are not necessary. Suggested items include inexpensive perfumes and T-shirts or hats with logos (e.g., Nike, FUBU, Adidas, basketball teams, USA, your state, university names, etc.) or that have to do with “The Rock.” American items like flags, posters, pens, and pencils are wonderful. Taped action movies/DVDs are quite popular. A tourist book or wall calendar of where you live is always fun to give.
Care Package Considerations
Of great interest is how to get care packages here, and whether they will actually arrive. The mail varies greatly even from where you send it in the U.S. The following are some tips to getting mail here a little more quickly and smoothly.
- Mail comes twice a week so there is no point in ever having something shipped next day or express mail.
- The smaller the box, the better. Up to 12x12x6 seems to do well getting here. The larger the box, the more time it seems to take, the more beaten up it is, and the more appealing it is to others.
- Be sure a customs form is filled out with it. Otherwise, it gets held up.
- Be sure “Western Samoa” is on the label, and the U.S. post office is clear on where it is going. Postage should not be domestic rates; otherwise, it may go to American Samoa, where it is sent back to the U.S. or never arrives.
- It is good to write, “God is Watching,” or “God Bless this package,” on the box. Just a safety precaution. Boxes usually get here, but just in case.
- If it is valuable, insure it.
- Faster is not always…well, faster. Air mail packages can get here in three weeks or three months. If someone wants to send you something timely (e.g., for a birthday or Christmas), he or she should send it very early, air mail or not. Note that Christmas time is horrible for sending packages. If your loved ones want to send a Christmas gift, be sure they send it early or let them know you are okay if it arrives in February or later.
- Pack well. Anything that can rattle around in the box can get broken. If the smallest box available still has air spaces, candy makes great packing material (hint, hint). Avoid using styrofoam peanuts; Samoa is a small country and trash accumulates quickly.
- Don’t panic! Mail usually arrives just fine, it just takes a while.
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 for which you should make arrangements.
- Notify family that they should call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; after-hours duty officer: 202.638.2574).
- Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front booklet to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain 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 on traveling longer, you will need a regular passport.)
- Complete dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pair.
- Arrange to take a three-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are presently taking. . Bring along immunization records (if applicable).
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your healthcare during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have pre-existing conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage. Many times if there is a lapse in supplemental health coverage it is 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.
- 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 articles insurance for 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 lender or loan service.
- Execute a power of attorney for the management of your property, business, taxes, and/or other paperwork. (Mail can be slow and undependable. If you have a bank account you will be keeping back home, applying to college after service, paying taxes, assistance with student loan deferments...anything of that nature, a power of attorney helps to facilitate matters greatly.) . Arrange for deductions from readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.