From Peace Corps Wiki
For the official Welcome Book for Belize see here
PEACE CORPS / BELIZE HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Belize
Since the first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Belize in 1962, more than 1,600 have served in the country. They have worked in education, alternative agriculture, health, conservation, and small business development. In the early years of Peace Corps/Belize, most Volunteers worked with the Ministry of Education to expand and diversify the secondary school system in rural areas. Since the early 1990s, Volunteers have focused their educational efforts on teacher training, curriculum development, HIV/AIDS awareness, and at-risk youth. They have also worked in rural community development, focusing on ecotourism, alternative agriculture, and environmental education.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Belize
Peace Corps/Belize works in several key areas, including education, youth development, rural community development and environmental conservation. The objective of our programming is not to teach the people of Belize American values or an American sense of efficiency, but to enable them to help themselves within their own cultural framework.
The education project engages Volunteers in providing training and support to teachers in the primary school system. Literacy rates in many Belizean communities are low.
Volunteers provide innovative leadership and training for teachers to strengthen reading instruction and to increase the reading skills of targeted students in the first four years of primary school. Volunteers also assist schools in setting up school and community libraries. This is complemented by a national adult literacy program in which Peace Corps Volunteers are collaborating with the Adult and Continuing Education Department of the Ministry of Education. Special education Volunteers are providing training for teachers in methodologies used to teach learning-impaired children. These teachers learn about materials development and classroom-management as well as methods for teaching students who are hearing-impaired or have vision and reading problems.
Youth for the Future was established by the Government of Belize in 2002 to increase efforts to systematically address the challenges facing young people. Youth development Volunteers are helping the government improve and expand the programs and services to the youth in Belize. The five main program theme areas are: leadership and governance; productivity and volunteerism; job creation and enterprise development; conflict resolution and violence reduction; and HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
Youth Volunteers focus on a holistic approach to youth development, paying particular attention to life-skills education; youth employment and entrepreneurship; and youth health, including the prevention of sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.
Recently, Peace Corps Volunteers have worked with the National 4-H and Youth Development Center on a new program that will establish 4-H youth groups in rural communities throughout Belize. In the coming years, Volunteers will play an important role in creating new 4-H groups, developing programming for these youth, and training key community members in managing the clubs for the future.
HIV/AIDS education and prevention are very important Volunteer activities because Belize has the highest rate of HIV/AIDs infection in Central America. The HIV/AIDS awareness component of the youth development project was developed in coordination with the National AIDS Commission and contributes significantly to the solution of this growing problem. Volunteers assigned to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the Ministry of Health target women and youth through peer education and behavior-change strategies, mass media campaigns, training workshops, and one-on-one education. Volunteers have also begun working with people living with HIV/AIDS.
Community education by Volunteers includes literacy (both for adults and school-aged children), substitute teaching, tutoring, teacher training, after-school programs, school gardens, community projects, and small business development. Volunteers need to be versatile, able to switch back and forth between formal and informal settings.
The rural community development project works in three main areas: 1) organizational strengthening and capacity building; 2) environmental education and protected areas management; and 3) ecotourism, sustainable livelihoods, and small business development. The goal of the project is to enable rural Belizeans to improve their quality of life in a community-led, sustainable manner. Some Volunteers focus on strengthening local organizations and their capacity to organize, analyze, plan and to act to improve their communities. Others advocate and organize programs that manage natural resources and protect biodiversity in ways that accrue benefits to community members. Still others aid communities by diversifying and generating new sources of family and village-level income through a holistic approach to environmentally sound development at the village level.
Volunteers use participatory techniques that allow community members to assess their needs and strengths. These techniques strengthen the capacity of community groups and develop their planning skills. Volunteers work with a wide range of groups—adult, women’s groups, village councils, youth groups—to help strengthen and sustain their abilities to effectively manage natural resources while improving village incomes.
Volunteers help communities to improve their understanding of the importance of maintaining their environment in a sustainable manner to improve their quality of life. Environmental outreach activities let Volunteers work both in a formal school environment educating teachers and children, and informally throughout the community.
Volunteers help communities learn and adopt skills that will help them diversify and increase income for their families. They facilitate family-level needs assessments and provide support for prioritizing family needs, identifying solutions, planning, and acting upon them. They also provide training in small business planning, bookkeeping, basic accounting, and marketing.
The rural community development approach works at the grassroots level, supporting initiatives that empower rural populations to manage their own development. As such, many Volunteers respond to unique community-identified needs in their villages, including water and sanitation projects, health education, nutrition, agricultural diversification, and small business marketing.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: BELIZE AT A GLANCE
A thousand years before the first Europeans set foot in Central America, the Maya people had established an empire that extended throughout parts of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize. Their agriculturally based society was distinguished by a high level of scientific and cultural achievements. The Maya built roads, devised an accurate calendar, developed a system of mathematics based on the concept of zero, and created a form of hieroglyphic writing. Their impressive art and architecture are still in evidence throughout Belize. By the beginning of the 10th century, however, the great temples of the Maya civilization were covered by jungle, a downfall that is shrouded in mystery.
The first European contact with Belize was in 1501, when Christopher Columbus sailed along its coast. While Belize lay out of the way of the great Spanish silver routes, sailors landed there in search of water and shelter. Spanish ships were constantly harassed by French, Dutch, and English buccaneers in the scramble for New World colonial possessions. A growing market for dye-producing logwood encouraged the English to settle in the area in the late 1600s. The trade in logwood was gradually surpassed by the trade in mahogany.
England sent its first official representative to Belize in the late 18th century. Belize, however, did not formally become the colony of British Honduras until 1840. It became a crown colony in 1862, with a governor and a council appointed by British authorities. Full self-government under a ministerial system was granted in 1962.
An interesting footnote in the history of Belize is neighboring Guatemala’s claim over the country. When Guatemala gained independence from Spain in 1821, it asserted that it inherited Spain’s sovereignty over part of Belize. This soon-forgotten issue was brought up again in 1859 when Guatemala and Great Britain attempted to set the boundaries of Belize. The issue of Guatemala’s “lost province” was then put aside again until the 1940s, when Guatemala included in its constitution a provision for recovering the territory. The provision failed because of international tribunals declaring the issue moot. Since then, boundary disputes between the two countries have periodically resurfaced.
British Honduras was renamed Belize in 1972, and on September 21, 1981, Great Britain granted Belize full independence. The country moved quickly to become a member of the United Nations and applied for membership in the Organization of American States. Belize opted to remain a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Belize’s executive branch consists of a prime minister, who is the leader of the majority party; 15 ministers; and two deputy ministers, who are selected from members of the National Assembly by the prime minister. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. She is represented by a governor general nominated by the Belize government.
Each ministry is structured along the traditional British model. Day-to-day administrative and directive functions are exercised by chief executive officers (CEOs), normally career civil service officers, but selected by the party in government. Under the CEOs are career civil service officers who serve as heads of various departments and subdivisions of the ministries.
The central government is located in the capital of Belize, Belmopan. The ministries carry out their activities through separate offices located in Belmopan and in the principal towns of the six administrative districts (Corozal, Belize, Cayo, Orange Walk, Stann Creek, and Toledo).
Three things stand out about Belize’s economy: its extreme openness, its precarious dependence on external resources, and its small size. As a British colony, the country became accustomed to importing virtually everything it consumed. Although Belize now has its own small industrial sector and food production system, it still relies heavily on imports and, as a result, has an annual trade deficit of about $50 million. On the positive side, the country’s foreign debt is the smallest in Central America.
The agricultural economy was first dominated by logwood, then mahogany, and finally sugar. In the 1970s, sugar became the undisputed king in Belize, accounting for 60 percent of the country’s exports. Citrus, sugar, bananas, seafood, cocoa, and apparel continue to be Belize’s main export commodities, although the effects of the world prices and the demand for cane sugar have plummetted.
The service economy, bolstered by a booming tourist industry (both overnight and cruise tourists), has grown into the leading element of the Belizean economy, especially as it relates to foreign exchange. However, agriculture, when combined with the country’s agro-processing industries, still represents the future economic activity in Belize. The combined agricultural sector accounts for as much as 25 percent of gross domestic product, 65 to 70 percent of export earnings, and 30 to 35 percent of employment. Tourism and the construction business have been among the most dynamic sectors in recent years. These sectors have surpassed agriculture in foreign exchange earnings and employ one in every four Belizeans.
People and Culture
With about 270,000 inhabitants, Belize is the least densely populated country in Central America. It has a remarkably diverse society: Mestizos (people of mixed European and indigenous ancestry) constitute about 49 percent of the population, Creoles 25 percent, Mayas 10 percent, Garifuna 6 percent, and others 10 percent. Sizable minorities include Chinese, Taiwanese, East Indian, and Mennonite populations.
While English remains the official language and is used in the business and political spheres, Spanish is becoming more widely spoken as the Mestizo population increases. The Garifuna and several Maya communities speak their own languages, and Mennonite settlements in Cayo and Orange Walk speak Low German. Creole is fast becoming the language common to all.
Belizean Creoles are, for the most part, descendants of slaves bought or captured in Africa and the West Indies. Two-thirds of them live in Belize City. The Mestizo population is largely concentrated in the north and west. Because of an influx of Central American refugees, combined with the large number of Creoles who emigrate, the Spanish-speaking population is growing in other parts of the country. The Garifuna, runaway slaves who mixed with the native islanders of St. Vincent in the 17th and 18th centuries, live in all parts of Belize. Maya communities are found in northern, west-central, and southern Belize.
Belize is known for its spectacular coral barrier reef, rich biodiversity, vibrant marine ecosystem, Mayan ruins and extensive areas of pristine tropical forest. The country has an impressive variety of plants and animals, including many rare and endangered species that have all but disappeared in other parts of Central America. Unfortunately, environmental issues such as water pollution, waste disposal, deforestation, and tourism are encroaching upon Belize’s coastline, cayes, forests, and mountains.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Belize and to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it.
A note of caution: As you surf the Internet, be aware that you may find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to express opinions about the Peace Corps based on their own experience, including comments by those who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. These opinions are not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government, and we hope you will keep in mind that no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About Belize
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Belmopan to how to convert from the U.S. dollar to the Belizean dollar. Just click on Belize and go from there.
Visit this site for general travel advice about almost any country in the world.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments worldwide.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information, and each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political background.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about countries around the world.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This is a website for returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Belize. The site is a forum to share ideas and information, stories, and photos.
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local volunteer activities.
This site is known as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web Ring. Browse the Web ring and see what former Volunteers are saying about their service.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts of their Peace Corps service.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Belize
“You Better Belize It!” offers a variety of information for visitors.
Naturalight’s comprehensive guide to visiting Belize and doing business and living in Belize. (Naturalight Productions, Ltd. is an established Belizean company providing Internet marketing, photography, and multimedia production services specializing in the coverage of Belize.)
This site has information on the early history of Belize and on Mayan archeological sites.
International Development Sites
Site for the United States Agency for International Development.
Site for the United Nations Development Programme.
Site for the World Bank.
- Arvigo, Rosita. Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco Reprint Edition, 1995.
- Eltringham, Peter. The Rough Guide to Belize: Includes Tikal and Bay Islands. London: Rough Guides Limited, 2004.
- McClaurin, Irma. Women of Belize: Gender and Change in Central America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996.
- Nystrum, Andrew Dean ed. Maya Atlas: The Struggle to Preserve Maya Land in Southern Belize. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1997.
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, CA: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, WA: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, NY: Picador, 2003.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, NY: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine (ed.). From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, CA: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Peace Corps/Belize recommends sending letters via airmail, which generally arrive within two weeks. Surface mail can take months. During training, you will receive mail through the Peace Corps office.
When you become a Volunteer and are assigned to a site, you will be responsible for sending your new mailing address to family and friends.
During your first six months in Belize, any packages you receive will be exempt from duty fees. After this period, you will be responsible for paying any duty on packages.
There are other options for having items such as airline tickets or small items sent to you. Small, padded envelopes are best for items weighing less than two pounds, as they are less likely to be opened and taxed than boxes. In addition, people can ship you packages using express mail services such as FedEx and DHL. The Peace Corps office accepts international express mail for Volunteers.
International telephone service in Belize is good and covers most of the country. However, it is expensive, so Volunteers typically call the United States collect. Volunteers are not permitted to use telephones at the Peace Corps office to call family and friends unless the call pertains to an emergency and is approved in advance by the country director.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Some Volunteers bring laptop computers to Belize. Before deciding to bring your laptop, you should consider that satisfactory maintenance and repair services may not be available. Moreover, if you are assigned to a rural site, there may not be electricity. If the Belizean agency you work with owns a computer, you may be able to arrange access for work-related or personal use. The Peace Corps office in Belize City has two computers, one in its resource center and another in the Volunteer lounge, both with Internet access and both available for Volunteer use. In addition, Belize City and most of the district towns have Internet cafes. In general, Internet service is available wherever there is telephone service.
Housing and Site Location
Once you have been assigned to a site, you will spend the first three months living with a host family. This will accelerate your language skills and provide a safe, welcoming environment to begin learning about Belizean culture. After three months, you may decide to stay with your host family or you may decide to move into an apartment or house of your own. Once you have identified safe and adequate housing that you can afford with the Peace Corps’ living allowance, Peace Corps staff will check your housing to ensure that it fulfills the Peace Corps’ site selection criteria (see the chapter on Health Care and Safety for further information). Volunteer housing ranges from one-room houses to small bungalows with bath and latrine facilities. Houses generally have electricity, but may or may not have running water and inside toilets. You will have to be very flexible in your housing expectations as there is no guarantee that electricity or running water will be available. Most Volunteers live in towns with populations of 4,000 to 20,000. A few Volunteers live in Belize City, and some live in small rural communities. Wherever you live, Peace Corps staff will visit you on occasion to provide personal, medical, and professional support.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer in Belize, you will receive four types of allowances: a living allowance, a one-time settling-in allowance (for setting up your household when you move to your site), a travel allowance, and a leave allowance. The country director reviews the allowances at least once a year through a Volunteer survey to ensure that they reasonably cover Volunteers’ expenses. Most Volunteers find that they can live comfortably in Belize with these allowances.
The Peace Corps strongly discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with money from home because Volunteers are expected to live at the same economic level as their Belizean neighbors and colleagues. However, many Volunteers bring money (in U.S. dollars or traveler’s checks) for out-of-country travel. Belizeans increasingly are using credit cards, so they are useful for vacations, especially if there is a reliable person back home who can make payments for you.
Food and Diet
The diet in Belize is composed mainly of carbohydrates (i.e., rice) and protein (i.e., beans and meat). Belize also produces a variety of fruits and vegetables. Potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, bananas, and oranges are inexpensive and readily available year-round. Imported produce, such as cauliflower, broccoli, beets, Brussel sprouts, nectarines, and peaches, are typically more expensive. You will find a wider variety of vegetables in cities than in rural areas.
The main meats in Belize are chicken, beef, and pork. Many Belizeans also eat fish, which can be purchased at local markets and supermarkets. Lobster and shrimp are also available but are expensive. Canned meats, crab, salmon, and sardines are sold at local grocery stores.
Depending on the size of your community, you should be able to purchase basic foods such as butter, eggs, cheese, vegetable oil, and milk locally. Imported cheeses, yogurt, and other perishable items may only be available in cities.
Most Belizean housewives bake their own Creole bread, a tasty and rich white bread that is often served with tea. Breads, biscuits, and pastries are also available in supermarkets. Because Belizeans are only now becoming aware of the nutritional value of whole-wheat baked goods, these products are just becoming available and tend to be costly.
Vegetarians will have to be creative to maintain a balanced diet because of the limited number of fruits and vegetables available year-round. They will also face limited choices in local homes and restaurants. Belizeans tend to incorporate meat into their dishes, and therefore may find catering to a vegetarian challenging. We encourage vegetarians to bring a cookbook with their favorite recipes.
Most Volunteers use bicycles to get around in their communities. You will receive funds to purchase a bicycle and helmet as part of the settling-in allowance. Volunteers must wear helmets whenever they ride on bicycles. The Peace Corps prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on two- or three-wheeled motorized vehicles and from owning or driving private cars. Violation of these policies can result in the termination of your Volunteer service. Most Volunteers travel around the country on commercial bus lines.
Geography and Climate
Belize’s typical weather report is “hot, humid, and a chance of thunderstorms,” but Volunteers generally adjust to the climate quickly. Since Belize is a small country—at 8,866 square miles, it is about the size of New Hampshire—there is little variation in temperature or humidity. The rainy season usually occurs from June to January, while the dry season lasts from February to May.
Belize remains largely undeveloped and unspoiled. More than 50 percent of its land is designated as nature reserves. While much of the wildlife population in neighboring countries has long since been lost, the dense forest of Belize remains a refuge for jaguars, tapirs, crocodiles, and birds. The land is mostly flat, with the exception of Maya Mountain, which rises to 3,630 feet (1,100 meters) at its highest point in the south-central region along the Guatemalan border.
Social activities will vary depending on where you are located. They might include taking part in local festivities, storytelling, and dances. Some Volunteers visit nearby Volunteers on weekends or make an occasional trip to Belize City. In addition to the snorkeling and diving opportunities at nearby islands and at the world’s second largest barrier reef, the country offers Mayan ruins and wildlife reserves to explore. In spite of these attractions, Peace Corps/Belize encourages Volunteers to spend as much time as they can at their sites to accomplish the Peace Corps’ second goal of cultural exchange.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
The people of Belize take pride in their personal appearance. To gain the acceptance, respect, and confidence of rural, urban, and government workers, it is essential that you dress and conduct yourself properly. Inappropriate dress, like inappropriate behavior, is something that sets a Volunteer unnecessarily apart from his or her community. Women should wear modest skirts, nice slacks or dresses for professional activities (except for physical labor), and men should wear slacks for most activities.
The Peace Corps expects you to behave in a way that will foster respect for you in your community and reflect well on the Peace Corps and on the citizens of the United States. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest and must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts. You need to be aware that behavior that jeopardizes the Peace Corps’ mission in Belize or your personal safety cannot be tolerated by the Peace Corps and may result in the termination of your service. Pre-service training will include an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty 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 security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Belize. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction in Belize is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support they promised. In addition, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change their practices and traditions. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.
You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work. You will often find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your co-workers with little guidance from supervisors. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress most often comes only after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. Belizeans are warm, friendly, and hospitable, and the Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Belize feeling that they have gained much more than they gave during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Training is an essential part of Peace Corps service. The goal is to give you the skills and information you need to live and work effectively in Belize, building upon the experience and expertise you bring to the Peace Corps. We anticipate that you will approach training with an open mind, a desire to learn, and a willingness to become involved. Trainees officially become Volunteers after successful completion of training.
The training program is approximately two months long. During training, you will receive training in language, cross-cultural communication, area studies, development issues, health and personal safety, and technical skills pertinent to your specific assignment. You will also practice new skills as they apply to Belize and meet and work with current Volunteers as a group. Additionally, by living with a host family during training and by taking field trips, you will have a chance to experience local culture and customs on your own.
After you arrive, you will stay at the training center for several weeks. Then you will live with a host family for a few weeks. This experience will bring to life some of the topics covered in training and give you a chance to practice language skills and observe and participate in Belizean culture. Throughout the training program, you will receive technical training and will travel around the country to visit Volunteers involved in work similar to yours. In the last week of training, trainees return to the training center for a few final training sessions and to make preparations to move to their permanent sites.
At the outset of training, the training staff will outline the goals that each trainee has to reach before becoming a Volunteer. Evaluation of your performance during training will be a continual process, characterized by a dialogue between you and the training staff. The training staff will work with you toward the highest possible achievement of training goals by providing you with regular feedback. After successful completion of training, you will be sworn in as a Volunteer and make the final preparations for departure to your site.
Technical training will prepare you to work in Belize by building on the skills you already have and by helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff, Belizean experts, and current Volunteers will conduct the training program. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have to the community in which you will serve as a Volunteer.
Technical training will include sessions on the general economic and political situation in Belize and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Belizean agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them. You will be supported and evaluated throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you need to undertake your project activities and to be a productive member of your community.
Although Belize is in the heart of Central America, it is an English-speaking country. The one language besides English that is used in all parts of the country is Creole, so most trainees are taught the basics of Creole during pre-service training.
Some Belizeans also speak Spanish, Garifuna, or various Mayan languages. If the people in your assigned community speak one of these languages and it becomes apparent that your work and integration into the community could benefit from learning that language, the Peace Corps will provide the necessary instruction.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Belizean host family. This experience is designed to ease your transition to life at your site. Families go through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of pre-service training and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Belize. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
Cross-cultural and community development training will help you improve your communication skills and understand your role as a facilitator of development. You will be exposed to topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, nonformal and adult education strategies, and political structures.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You will be expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in Belize. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other STIs are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces your risks at home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. During 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.
- Midterm conference (done in conjunction with technical sector in-service): 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 training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN BELIZE
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 Belize maintains a clinic with a full-time medical officer who takes care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Belize at local, American-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an American medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Health Issues in Belize
Volunteers generally enjoy good health while serving in Belize. The most common health problems among Volunteers are diarrhea, skin infections, dental problems, headaches, respiratory infections, minor injuries, and STIs. Most illnesses and accidents involving Volunteers are preventable and, to a considerable degree, under the Volunteer’s control. When someone does contract an illness, it is often because of poor health practices.
But health problems also result from local environmental factors such as dust, humidity, insects, and disease-producing microorganisms. Exposure to tropical diseases like dengue fever, malaria, and hepatitis is possible, as well as being infected with intestinal parasites. There is also the potential for alcohol abuse.
Because malaria is endemic in Belize, you are required to take antimalarial pills. You will also be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B; tetanus and diphtheria; typhoid; rabies; and measles, mumps, and rubella.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Belize, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training, you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter.
During pre-service training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical officer. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as the Peace Corps will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for shipments to arrive.
You will have physicals at midservice and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Belize will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Belize, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept considerable responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The adage “An ounce of prevention ...” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Belize is to take the following preventive measures:
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide can be avoided by proper water disinfection, safe preparation of food, careful selection of eating facilities, and good personal hygiene. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Belize during pre-service training.
Volunteers can protect themselves from bites from disease-carrying mosquitoes by using insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved clothing when outdoors at night, sleeping under nets (provided by Peace Corps), and spraying permethrin in their bedroom when necessary.
Rabies is endemic in Belize, so you will receive a series of immunizations when you arrive. If you are exposed to an animal that is known to have or suspected of having rabies, inform the medical officer at once so that you can receive post-exposure booster shots.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for prevention of HIV/ AIDS and other STIs. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country national, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STIs. You will receive more information from the medical officer about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let the medical officer know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met.
Feminine hygiene items are available in-country.
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 may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antifungal cream (Tinactin)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
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)
Water purification tablets
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it with you to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, shortly after you arrive in Belize. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, it will order refills during your service.
While awaiting shipment—which can take several months— you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. The Peace Corps discourages you from using contact lenses during your service to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. 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 ususally occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompannied 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 provide 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 Belize as compared to all other Inter-America and Pacific (IAP) region programs as a whole, from 2001–2005. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps’ classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What If You Become a Victim of a Violent Crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Security Issues in Belize
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Belize. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the larger cities; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions in large towns, for instance, are favorite work sites for pickpockets. The following are some safety concerns in Belize.
Motor vehicle accidents. This is the single greatest risk to your safety in Belize. You must wear seat belts whenever they are available and avoid riding in the back of pickup trucks.
Robbery/burglary. The homes of some Volunteers have been robbed in the past, so you need to take the same precautions that you would take in the United States. The Peace Corps will advise you on proper home safety during training and requires landlords to install burglar bars and deadbolt locks on Volunteers’ homes as needed.
Sexual assault. Volunteers have been targets of sexual assault in Belize. Alcohol consumption and cross-cultural differences in gender relations are often associated with sexual assaults, and the assailant is often an acquaintance of the Volunteer. Volunteers who take seriously Peace Corps/Belize’s training regarding sexual assaults can minimize their risk. You are urged to report any assault or threat of assault to the Peace Corps medical officer so that staff can respond with appropriate support. Promiscuity can potentially put both men and women at risk.
Because homosexual behavior is illegal in Belize, gay and lesbian Volunteers must practice discretion.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Belize, do what you would do if you moved to a new city in the United States:
Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Belize may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention both in large cities and at their sites, but they are likely to receive more negative attention in highly populated centers than at their sites, where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to unwanted attention. In addition, keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch, the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. And always walk with a companion at night.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer
Support in Belize
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for addressing safety and security incidents. Belize’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Belize office will keep Volunteers apprised of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be offered in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Belize. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection is based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; housing options and living arrangements; and other Volunteer support needs.
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Belize’s detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, you will gather with other Volunteers in Belize at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, in order for the Peace Corps to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps medical officer. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
DIVERSITY AND CROSSCULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling its mandate to share the face of America with host countries, the Peace Corps is making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Belize, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Belize.
Outside of the bigger towns and tourist areas, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Belize are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Belize, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Belize
The Peace Corps staff in Belize recognizes the 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 Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Women in Belize generally have traditional roles, though the situation is changing. For example, women in Maya and mestizo communities are primarily responsible for the maintenance of the household, and many are expected to be subservient and obedient. In larger towns, however, women’s roles are shifting. More mestizo women are attending university than ever before, and as the entire country moves from being less dependent on farming and fishing to being more dependent on tourism and business, women are gaining new opportunities.
Female Volunteers in Belize have to be careful in what they do or say. Behavior that you consider perfectly friendly and innocent, such as going out for a drink with, or accepting a ride home from, a man, may be interpreted as a sexual advance or invitation. American television shows such as Baywatch, Days of Our Lives, and Melrose Place, which Belizeans watch, depict loose American women, and Belizean men may have had past experiences with American tourists out to have a good time. You need to be diligent in maintaining strictly professional relationships with male coworkers. If you develop a bad reputation, it will stay with you for the duration of your service. One of the hardest things for female Volunteers to accept is that Belize is a society that has been, and is likely to continue to be, male dominated.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Volunteers of color may face challenges both inside and outside the Peace Corps community. Among Volunteers, you may be the only minority trainee or Volunteer in a particular project. You may not receive necessary personal support from other Volunteers, and you may not find minority role models among the Peace Corps’ country staff.
African-American Volunteers have expressed frustration and disappointment at being asked where they are from instead of being recognized as Americans. They are often mistaken for being Creole and therefore are presumed to know the language. In addition, Belizeans sometimes judge them, at least initially, as less professionally competent than Caucasian Volunteers. After a settling-in period, however, most African Americans say they are well-accepted by their communities.
Hispanic American Volunteers sometimes find that they are initially perceived as Mexican or Central American rather than North American and are expected to speak Spanish fluently. Similarly, Asian-American Volunteers find that they are often identified by their cultural heritage instead of their American citizenship. Asian-American Volunteers may encounter Belizeans with stereotyped perceptions of Asians based on behavior they have observed in martial arts films. The presence of immigrants from China and Taiwan in Belize has, at times, created hostility among some Belizeans toward people of Chinese descent.
In spite of these issues, most Belizeans will graciously welcome you into their homes and communities.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Age garners respect in Belize. Younger Volunteers often have to work harder than their older colleagues to be accepted as professionals. Older Volunteers sometimes feel isolated when there are no other Volunteers of the same age or suitable role models among the Peace Corps staff. It can also be challenging to get support from younger Volunteers. Senior Volunteers may find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support. Some find this enjoyable, while others choose not to fill this role.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
It is wise to use discretion and caution in revealing your sexual orientation to Belizeans you do not know well in order to avoid jeopardizing your relationships with people in your community and at work. Although Belize may seem laid back and easygoing in regard to sexuality, this is not the case. People generally hold conservative attitudes toward homosexuality. With the availability of American cable television, many Belizeans are becoming more aware of homosexuality, but most see it as an import from the United States. Belize is primarily a Christian country, and many people feel that homosexuality is a sin and aberration. Since most Belizeans do not “come out” to their families or anyone else, the population at large has rarely met an “out” lesbian, gay, or bisexual person. Rumors and misinformation about homosexuality abound. As a result, homophobia is rampant and many Belizean lesbians, gays, and bisexuals move to the United States.
Although rarely prosecuted, male homosexual acts are against the law in Belize (lesbians are not included in the statute), and there are no laws protecting the rights of lesbians or gays in Belize. There are no openly gay bars or support groups, so the only place for people to meet is at private parties. If you become involved in an intimate relationship with a Belizean, it is advisable to avoid public displays of affection. If you encounter discrimination based on your sexual orientation from Peace Corps staff in Belize, bring it to the attention of your country director. If you have other concerns, the Peace Corps medical officer in Belize is available to provide support and information on this issue.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Volunteers in Belize are frequently asked about their religious affiliation and may be invited to attend a community church. Volunteers who do not attend church may be challenged to explain their reluctance, but it is usually possible to politely decline if the church or religious practice is not one of your choice. Most Volunteers find effective ways to cope with these situations and come to feel quite at home in Belize.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Belize, you may face a special set of challenges. In Belize, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. And there is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.
As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Belize without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Belize 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 in Belize.
Possible Issues for Married Couples
Being a married couple in the Peace Corps has its advantages and its challenges. It helps to have someone by your side with whom you can share your experience, but there are also cultural expectations that can cause stress in a marriage. It is important to remember that you are in a foreign country with new rules and need to be open-minded about cultural differences. A couple may have to take on some new roles. A married man may be encouraged by Belizeans to be the more dominant member in the relationship, be encouraged to make decisions independently of his spouse, or be ridiculed when he performs domestic tasks. A married woman may find herself in a less independent role than she is accustomed to or may be expected to perform “traditional” domestic chores such as cooking or cleaning. Other issues may also arise: One spouse may be more enthusiastic about Peace Corps service, better able to adapt to the new environment, or less homesick than the other. Competition may arise if one spouse learns the language or other skills faster than the other.
A couple who is assigned to different sectors or projects often will stay in different training sites during at least part of pre-service training. This enables each spouse to give undivided attention to acquiring the language and technical skills needed for the assignment and to spend more time in cross-cultural interactions with members of the host community. Couples who live at separate sites during training will have opportunities to see each other as the training schedule permits.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Belize?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The Peace Corps’ allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds for any one bag.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.
What is the electric current in Belize?
Although 220-volt electricity is available for large appliances, all homes and offices have 110-volt outlets.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects; Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase such insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, laptops, 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 Belize do not need an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating privately owned vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks and lots of walking. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a sponsor’s vehicle, but this can occur 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 Belizean friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites until after they have completed 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 may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions. However, many factors influence the site selection process and the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. There is usually at least one Volunteer based in each of the district capitals and five to eight Volunteers in Belize City.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For nonemergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580.
Can I call home from Belize?
It is relatively easy to call the United States. Phones are available in almost all parts of the country, and the connections are good. However, international calls are expensive.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
Most volunteers elect to not to bring a cellphone with them to Belize, although most of the country has cell coverage and service (though it is expensive compared to U.S. rates). If you choose to bring a cellphone, bring one that uses a SIM card and remember that the chip in your phone will need to be reprogrammed by the local service provider to work on its system.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Internet and e-mail access is available through Belize Telecommunications Limited—the only Internet service provider in Belize—wherever there is telephone service. But it is expensive. The Peace Corps office in Belize City has two computers with Internet access that are available for Volunteer use.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Belize and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. The less you bring, the easier it will be for you to travel to and within Belize. Do not do all your packing in one day. Fill your bags and then return later to reevaluate your decisions. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Belize.
The climate of Belize is hot and humid most of the year, so bring lightweight and sturdy clothing that breathes (cotton or a cotton blend are recommended) and is easy to hand-wash and line-dry. Because it can get cool during the winter months at higher elevations, bring a few clothing items to layer. Lightweight rain gear is helpful during the many rainy days that occur during the wet season.
Because clothes generally have to be washed in cold water with strong detergents, clothes tend to wear out quickly. As many Belizeans iron their clothes, you may want to purchase an iron and ironing board after settling in to your site.
Although you can buy almost anything in Belize, cosmetics, toiletries, clothes, and shoes—many of which are imported from the United States—are expensive.
- Lightweight jacket, sweater, or sweatshirt
- Lightweight poncho or raincoat
- Eight to 10 lightweight, loose-fitting skirts or dresses
- One nice outfit for special occasions
- Eight to 10 lightweight blouses or other tops
- Eight to 10 lightweight T-shirts (tank tops can be worn at home)
- Two to four pairs of loose-fitting khakis, slacks, or jeans with pockets
- Four to six pairs of long, loose-fitting shorts with pockets
- Two-year supply of underpants, bras, and socks and at least one half slip (cotton is best)
- Sleepwear (lightweight, cotton, not see-through); bring one heavier item for cool weather
- One or two swimsuits
- Casual clothes for hanging out at home or for exercise
- Hat or cap
- Lightweight jacket, sweater, or sweatshirt
- Lightweight poncho or raincoat
- Three or four pairs of slacks, jeans, or khakis with pockets
- Three or four short-sleeved, button-down shirts
- One short-sleeved dress shirt
- Three or four T-shirts in light colors
- Two-year supply of cotton underwear
- Two or three pairs of long, loose-fitting shorts with pockets
- Swimming trunks
- Casual clothes for hanging out at home or for exercise
- Hat or cap
Shoes in Belize are very expensive. You will be doing a great deal of walking, so be sure that the shoes you bring are sturdy and comfortable.
- One pair of comfortable dress shoes
- One or two pairs of sneakers
- Two or three pairs of sandals appropriate for work or special occassions
- One pair of sturdy sandals (e.g., Chaco, Tevas)
- One pair of comfortable hiking shoes or boots
- One pair of rubber-soled flip-flops
- One pair of comfortable dress shoes
- Several pairs of sneakers or athletic shoes
- One or two pairs of hiking shoes or boots
- One pair of rubber-soled flip-flops
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- Two pairs of sunglasses.
- Six-month supply of toothpaste, shampoo, soap, lotion, deodorant, razors, shaving cream
- Pots and pans (which you can have sent to you toward the end of training) Miscellaneous
- One or two sets of double-size sheets
- One to three sets of lightweight towels and washcloths
- One cotton blanket for cool weather
- Electrical appliances (e.g., hair dryer, iron, coffeepot, wok, crockpot)
- Surge protector (a must)
- Inexpensive waterproof watch
- Sturdy water bottle or canteen (e.g., Nalgene)
- Camera, film, and silica gel
- Rechargeable batteries and recharger
- Walkman, radio, or cassette player
- Swiss Army knife
- Flashlight(s) with replacement bulbs
- Travel alarm clock
- Sewing kit with scissors
- Photos of your home, family, and friends
- Board games
- Art supplies
- Binoculars (a must if you are a bird-watcher or wildlife fan)
- Sports equipment (e.g., snorkeling or fishing gear)
- Bike lock, if you plan to get a bicycle
- Guidebooks on the region, a Spanish/English dictionary
- Personal checks (for obtaining emergency cash)
- Daypack or other small bag
- Lightweight sleeping bag (for visiting other Volunteers; the Peace Corps provides a mosquito net)
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 is not all inclusive of everything you should make arrangements for.
- Notify family that they should call Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services 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 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 pairs.
- Arrange to bring a six-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your health care 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 if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
- Purchase personal 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 and business.
- 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.