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|Peace Corps Welcome Book|
Peace Corps resumed work in Burkina Faso in 1995 after an eight-year absence. Upon request of the government, Volunteers arrived to work in primary healthcare in rural communities.
Two years later, the Ministry of Secondary Education requested Volunteers to work with middle schools, high schools, a teacher-training college, and a university to make up for large shortfalls in qualified teachers.
In 2003, the government and Peace Corps collaborated to start a small enterprise development project in microfinance and agribusiness. The girls' education and empowerment program began in 2005 in collaboration with the Ministry of Basic Education.
Peace Corps History
Main article: History of the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso
The Peace Corps entered Burkina Faso, then called Upper Volta, in 1967 and operated there uninterrupted for 20 years. Major projects included forestry extension, young farmer education, small enterprise development, secondary education (math, science, and English language), water well construction, agricultural and environmental extension, arts and crafts, basketball coaching, and parks development. In June 1986, the government of Burkina Faso asked the Peace Corps to cease sending Volunteers because the Peace Corps’ programs no longer coincided with Burkina Faso’s development goals. The 30 Volunteers in the country completed their service in 1987. In 1995, 19 trainees arrived in Burkina Faso as part of a newly established health project. One year later, the Peace Corps established a secondary education project in response to the government’s urgent request for teachers. In 2003, in response to government initiatives and articulated local needs, a small enterprise development project began with 15 trainees. A girls’ education project started in 2005. Currently, nearly 90 Volunteers work throughout the country, primarily in rural areas. Approximately 1,500 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Burkina Faso to date.
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle
The government ministry to which you are assigned or your community will provide you with safe and adequate housing in accordance with the Peace Corps’ site selection criteria. The majority of health Volunteers live in small rural villages, while education Volunteers tend to live in larger villages and towns. Volunteer housing is typically a small house made of mud or cement bricks with a thatch or tin roof. Many Volunteers do not have running water or electricity; they draw their water from a well and obtain light through kerosene lanterns. Nearly all Volunteers are within one hour of a neighboring Volunteer and eight hours of the Peace Corps office in Ouagadougou by public transport.
Main article: Training in Burkina Faso
During the first several days of training, you will stay at a training center or hotel in the capital. After this orientation period, you will move to Ouahigouya, a regional capital north of Ouagadougou. Trainees will be placed in clusters of four to five people along with a language and cross-culture facilitator. Health and girls’ education clusters will be located in villages a short distance from Ouahigouya. Clusters of small enterprise development and secondary education trainees will most likely be based in Ouahigouya.
Trainees will be assigned to a host family where they will live for the duration of pre-service training. The host family experience, which Volunteers in Burkina Faso consider one of the most critical elements of training, allows you to gain hands-on experience in some of the new skills you are expected to acquire. Most Volunteers remain in close contact with their host families throughout their service.
At the beginning of training, the training staff will outline the goals that each trainee has to achieve before becoming a Volunteer and the criteria that will be used to assess progress toward those goals. The training director, along with the language, technical, and cross-cultural trainers, will work with you toward the highest possible achievement of training goals by providing you with feedback throughout training. After successful completion of pre-service training, you will be sworn-in as a Volunteer and make final preparations to depart for your site.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN BURKINA FASO
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 Burkina Faso maintains a clinic with two full-time medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Burkina Faso at local, American-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to a medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Health Issues in Burkina Faso
Major health problems among Peace Corps Volunteers in Burkina Faso are rare and are often the result of a Volunteer’s not taking preventive measures to stay healthy. The most common health problems in Burkina Faso are minor ones that are also found in the United States, such as colds, diarrhea, headaches, dental problems, sinus infections, skin infections, minor injuries, STDs, emotional problems, and alcohol abuse. These problems may be more frequent or compounded by life in Burkina Faso because environmental factors raise the risk or exacerbate the severity of certain illnesses and injuries.
The most common major health concerns in Burkina Faso are malaria, amebic dysentery, hepatitis, meningitis, and HIV/AIDS. Because malaria is endemic in Burkina Faso, Volunteers are required to take antimalarial pills. You will also be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, meningitis A and C, tetanus and diphtheria, typhoid, and rabies.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon arrival in Burkina Faso, 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 Burkina Faso will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Burkina Faso, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept considerable responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage “An ounce of prevention...” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Burkina Faso is to take the following preventive measures:
Malaria is a major health issue in most parts of Africa, including Burkina Faso. The most important step in preventing malaria and many other tropical diseases is to avoid mosquito and other insect bites. The best ways to avoid insect bites are to sleep under a mosquito net (which the Peace Corps provides), wear long sleeves and pants whenever possible, use insect repellent, and be sure there are functional screens on your windows and doors. Mosquitoes bite primarily from dusk until dawn. Since no one can entirely prevent all mosquito bites, Volunteers in Burkina Faso must take antimalarial pills; failure to do so is grounds for administrative separation from the Peace Corps.
Many diseases that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These diseases include food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, Guinea worms, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. The Peace Corps will provide you with water filters, and the medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation for Burkina Faso during pre-service training.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for prevention of HIV/ AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from the medical officer about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
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.
If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical officer in Burkina Faso will provide them. If you require a specific feminine hygiene product, please bring a six-month supply with you. Peace Corps/Burkina Faso currently supplies tampons and pads to you during the duration of your service. Some Volunteers use menstrual cups like the Diva Cup or The Keeper for their monthly cycles. Information on these products is available on their websites (www.divacup.com and www.keeper.com.).
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)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Tinactin (antifungal cream)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your pre-departure orientation or shortly after you arrive in Burkina Faso. 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 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 Burkina Faso as compared to all other Africa region programs as a whole, from 2001–2005. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population.
It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps' classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What if you become a victim of a violent crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect.
Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-aday, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Security Issues in Burkina Faso
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 Burkina Faso. 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 far less frequent than in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. The following are safety concerns in Burkina Faso you should be aware of:
Almost all security incidents in Ouagadougou involving Volunteers fall in the general category of purse or cellphone snatching or pickpocketing. You can avoid such incidents by taking taxis (taxis can be called for door-to-door service); not carrying anything that resembles a passport pouch, fanny pack, or backpack; traveling with at least one other person; and never visiting downtown Ouagadougou after dark alone or on foot. Security incidents at the village and town level typically involve petty theft from Volunteers’ houses while they are away. These types of incidents can be minimized by establishing good relationships with your neighbors, informing people when you are going to be gone, and locking all windows and doors.
Political demonstrations that escalate into clashes between security forces and demonstrators are infrequent and have never presented a direct threat to Volunteers. Nonetheless, the Peace Corps advises Volunteers to stay away from demonstrations and to immediately inform Peace Corps staff when they occur.
While sexual harassment of women is quite common, sexual assault is rare. However, it is possible that during your Peace Corps service, you may become a victim of physical or sexual assault. Alcohol consumption and cross-cultural differences in gender relations are often associated with sexual assaults. Just as in the United States, you can avoid some of the risk by changes in your own behavior. You will receive a thorough briefing on strategies for dealing with harassment during training.
All Volunteers, whether homosexual or not, should be aware that being “out” can present a serious security risk. Gay men, in particular, should exercise caution when confiding in others. Volunteers who are aware of the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian Volunteers should never divulge this knowledge to Burkinabé counterparts, friends, or acquaintances because this could seriously jeopardize the security and effectiveness of the gay or lesbian Volunteer.
Should you become the victim of violence, the medical office will be there to help you. It is important that you involve the medical office to receive appropriate care, including care for your emotional well-being.
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 Burkina Faso, 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 Burkina Faso 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. Among the measures you can take to protect yourself are keeping 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); not carrying a backpack, purse, or fanny pack in downtown Ouagadougou; and never walking around downtown Ouagadougou at night— always take a taxi. You should also avoid walking at night elsewhere in the country, but if you must, be sure to go with a companion.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Burkina Faso
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 reporting and responding to safety and security incidents. Peace Corps/Burkina Faso’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
Information related to Volunteers’ safety is gathered on an ongoing basis from Volunteers, their co-workers, the U.S. Embassy, and other organizations working in Burkina Faso. The Peace Corps/Burkina Faso office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be provided in Volunteers newsletters and in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Burkina Faso. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. 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/Burkina Faso’s detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Burkina Faso will gather at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate. The emergency action plan can operate effectively only when the Peace Corps staff is aware of Volunteers’ whereabouts. When away from your site, you must keep staff informed of your location; failure to do so may result in administrative separation from the Peace Corps.
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 Burkina Faso, 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 considered familiar and commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Burkina Faso.
Outside of Burkina Faso’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Burkina Faso 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 Burkina Faso, 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 are best avoided; 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 Burkina Faso
The Peace Corps staff in Burkina Faso 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 male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
The Peace Corps/Burkina Faso staff is committed to providing a supportive work environment that values diversity and is always available to address any concerns.
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Burkina Faso has a traditional, patriarchal society. Female Volunteers may be surprised by the extent to which community and domestic roles are defined along gender lines. Men generally hold positions of authority in the workplace (though women are becoming more visible there), in the community, and in the home. This can present challenges for female Volunteers, as the work they do may be seen as a typically “male” job. The difficulties are exacerbated because single women do not usually have the status and respect that come with marriage and having children. Thus women may find it challenging to have their ideas recognized and respected by both women and men.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Although Burkinabé society can be conservative, Volunteers generally find the Burkinabé to be hospitable and accepting of people with a wide variety of backgrounds. Nevertheless, Burkinabé may have preconceived notions of Americans based on the kind of information available in Burkina Faso about Westerners, which comes mainly from television, movies, magazines, and local news reports and often presents a limited view of American diversity. For example, Asian Americans are often called Chinois (Chinese) regardless of their actual background, and African Americans may not be considered Americans.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
The high regard for seniors in Burkinabé society lends support to senior Volunteers’ effectiveness at work. They, in turn, are able to find ways to use their extensive experience to assist their communities. However, seniors often comment that they feel a lack of camaraderie with other, mostly much younger, Volunteers. And the three months of pre-service training can be particularly frustrating for seniors because of the rigid schedule, classroom setting, and issues of integration with other trainees in the group. Language learning may present an additional challenge. However, most senior Volunteers find living and working at their sites to be very rewarding.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Given the society’s conservative values, homosexuality is not likely to be tolerated by the general public in Burkina Faso. There may even be potential safety and security concerns. It will probably be impossible to be open about your sexual orientation and maintain a positive working relationship with members of your community, and you will have to exercise extreme discretion. Other Volunteers and the Peace Corps staff will provide support, but you will find it very difficult to be open outside of that circle.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Christianity, Islam, and indigenous belief systems all are represented in Burkina Faso. You will be free to practice your own religion as long as you demonstrate respect for the religion of the people in your community and refrain from proselytizing.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Burkina Faso, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Burkina Faso, 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 Burkina Faso without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/Burkina Faso staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Burkina Faso?
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 allowance 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 Burkina Faso?
If you have electricity at your site, and it works, the current will be 220 volts, 50 cycles. Voltage sags and surges are very common and place a real strain on power supplies and voltage transformers or regulators. The Peace Corps does not provide transformers or regulators to Volunteers. For battery-powered appliances such as tape players and radios, we suggest “D” batteries, since these are readily available in local markets. Many Volunteers use rechargeable batteries with a solar charger, which is a good alternative to disposable batteries.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. You will be given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which will cover your in-country expenses and normal vacation costs. Some Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel outside the region. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. All banks require proof of purchase (i.e., receipts) to cash traveler’s checks. 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. Visitors are discouraged from spending extended periods (more than a few weeks) in-country, and you will have to take vacation time if hosting visitors requires you to take time off from work. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance. Because an evacuation in the event of a medical emergency can cost more than $25,000, all visitors should plan to buy medical evacuation insurance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. You are encouraged to purchase insurance if you are bringing valuable items with you. You will be provided with application forms at staging.
If you prefer, you may also contact your own insurance company. 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 Burkina Faso do not need to get an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating motorized vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to bicycles and lots of walking.
What should I bring as gifts for Burkina Faso 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 late in 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, and living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a 10- to 12-hour drive from the capital.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For 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 Burkina Faso?
International phone service to and from Burkina Faso is quite good. The national telephone company, ONATEL, has offices in all of Burkina Faso’s administrative towns. Calls to the United States are expensive, so most Volunteers prearrange to receive calls from home or limit calls to giving call-back information so that the receiver can return the call. U.S. calling cards cannot be used in Burkina Faso at this time, and calling collect is not possible.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
No. They can be purchased inexpensively in Burkina Faso. Most American cellphones do not work in Burkina Faso.
Should I bring my computer?
The decision whether to bring a laptop computer depends on your own needs. Among the factors to consider are that computers are not required for Volunteers’ work; that the Peace Corps does not provide technical support or insurance for personal computers; you may not be assigned to a site with electricity; and computer access is available at private Internet cafes (and, for work-related purposes, the Peace Corps office). However, most Volunteers who have brought laptops with them—primarily education Volunteers—have been happy with their decision and have used their computers for both personal and work-related purposes.
For more information on computers, please see the memo on electronic equipment later in this document.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Burkina Faso 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. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Burkina Faso.
Peace Corps Burkina Faso Packing List
Packing List (Items in bold are those most recommended by Peace Corps/ Burkina Faso Volunteers) Please see Electronics Guidelines below for suggestions about technology (laptops, cameras, etc.)
- One or two pairs of jeans (no holes, nothing ratty)
- One pair of sweatpants (or other lightweight pants for sleeping) and a lightweight cotton sweatshirt/sweater
- 3-4 pairs of socks (more if you like to go running)
- Four to six cotton shirts (preferably not all white or light colors—everything turns brown here with the dust and it’s hard to beat out when you wash them by hand. Also, some Volunteers prefer non-cotton wicking shirts, but these are expensive.)
- A pair of sturdy sandals/flip-flops (e.g., Tevas or Chacos) and a pair of athletic shoes. You may want a nice pair of shoes for dressing up, but these can also be bought here.
- Baseball cap or wide-brimmed hat
- Breathable rain jacket
- Swimsuit (there are swimming pools in the capital and other cities)
- Belt (you may lose weight and need one to hold up your pants)
- Sturdy sunglasses with UV protection (plan on losing them; you may want two pairs) Men
- Two to four pairs of shorts for around the house and biking
- Two to four pairs of comfortable lightweight pants
- Two to three sets of “dress casual” clothes: shirts with collars, casual slacks
- One dress-up outfit (shirt and tie is sufficient)
- Nice dresses (or long skirts) for training and teaching (make sure these cover your knees, even when you sit down, and are not see-through, very important for teachers)
- Two nicer outfits (think spring/summer wear that covers your knees)
- One or two pairs of comfortable lightweight pants or long capris
- One or two pairs of longer shorts for around the house and biking
- Lots of bras and underwear (bring comfortable stuff that you don’t mind ruining; many female Volunteers prefer wicking sports bras for transport and biking)
- Cosmetics and hair accessories (mascara, bandanas, etc., if you use them)
- Your favorite jewelry, but nothing too dear to you.
A note on clothing: Burkinabé, while not excessively formal, put a great deal of emphasis on a professional appearance. Dressing appropriately will greatly enhance your credibility at work, improve your ability to integrate into your community, and increase your odds of having a safe Peace Corps service. You’ll probably feel a lot more comfortable in village, too. Men should expect to wear shirts with a collar and casual slacks; women should wear below-the-knee skirts, dresses, or casual slacks with shirts that are not revealing. This means, for men and women, no tight or see-through clothing or ratty and worn articles. For women especially, please note that Peace Corps does not consider spaghetti strap tank-tops, skirts that reveal the knee, and pants/skirts that reveal the top of your underwear (this goes for the men, too) to be appropriate, professional clothing. For fancy occasions like your swearing-in ceremony, many Volunteers opt to have special clothing made from cloth here rather than wear the dressy outfit they brought. You are expected to dress appropriately at all times when you are in public and while at the Peace Corps training site. That said it is fine to dress down when you are hanging out with other Volunteers or while you are at home and in your courtyard.
Very important: Don’t bring anything that you can’t bear to see destroyed by the dusty climate, harsh soap, and merciless hand washing.
- Bring a three-month supply to get you through training
- Deodorants (very hard to find your favorites here)
- Acne soap (you might have skin problems here. Peace Corps supplies antibacterial soap, which can be used on the face.)
- Soap holder
- Shampoo and hair conditioner (if you’re picky about brands)
- Razor and supply of razor blades (available here but very, very expensive)
- Foot care items (sorry, but your feet will get trashed, so you may want a pumice stone and other exfoliating devices; you can find inexpensive shea butter and shea butter products here)
A note about medical supplies: Unless you need a special prescription medicine, the Peace Corps supplies all of the basic medical supplies you may need. This includes multivitamins, sunscreen, bug repellent, lip balm, hand-sanitizer, and lotion. However, if you prefer a certain brand name over-the-counter drug or product, bring it. Peace Corps also provides you with an excellent water filter and several water purification options for travel as well. You do not need to bring your own water filter.
A note to females: Peace Corps/Burkina Faso provides feminine products including Tampax and OB tampons and sanitary napkins, but if you have a preference, you may want to bring your own supply. Some Volunteers recommend the “Keeper” or “Diva Cup” in lieu of disposable products. The medical staff recommends the “Diva Cup” because it is latex-free.
- Sturdy backpacks. Day packs (some like fanny packs or the tops of larger packs) are nice for work and bike rides. Medium packs are good for short trips. And large packs are recommended for longer trips (if you plan any) and getting all your stuff here.
- A good headlamp
- Leatherman or Swiss Army knife
- Durable water bottle (e.g., Nalgene; you might want to bring two as they tend to wander off)
- Lightweight screen mosquito tent for sleeping outside in the hot season and traveling (Peace Corps provides mosquito nets, but many Volunteers recommend Tropic Screen Tents)
- Good can opener
- Duct tape
- Ziploc bags (in various sizes)
- Lots of good pens and craft supplies (special papers, sharpie permanent markers, highlighters, pencils, pastels, etc.)
- A book or two of U.S. stamps (Volunteers traveling home can mail letters for you)
- Good nonstick frying pan and plastic spatula (can be found here, but they are expensive)
- Sharp kitchen knife (if you plan on cooking, this is essential; knives here are very dull, you may even want to bring your own knife sharpener)
- Pot holders
- Good scissors (and hair-cutting scissors if you want them)
- Family pictures and anything from home that will make you feel more comfortable (pictures, posters, your favorite book or teddy bear, journal, scented candles… but, again, don’t bring items too dear to you)
- Eyeglass repair kit
- Travel sewing kit
- A durable watch with alarm (nothing you mind losing) or travel-size clock
- Do not worry too much about books. There are plenty of books already here, especially classic novels, fiction about Africa, Oprah’s book club, Harry Potter, and way too many romance novels. You may want to bring a few to get you through training or some newer novels.
- Powdered drink mixes (e.g., Crystal Lite or Kool-Aid; sugar is available here)
- Cheese, soup, and sauce packets
- Your favorite spices
- Power bars and granola bars
- Dried fruit
- Candy and your favorite junk foods
You can conserve packing space by preparing a package with food, books, and anything else you feel you may not require right away during training and ask your family to ship it to you.
You also might want...
- Music instrument (if you play or would like to take up a new hobby)
- Sleeping pad for sleeping outside or on the floor (e.g., Therm-a-rest)
- Travel-size board games (Scrabble, Boggle, etc.)
- Small towel or a special pack light towel
- Small battery-powered fan with water spritzer
- And if you’re at all picky about pillows, bring your own
And if you really like to bike...
- Bike gloves
- Bike shorts
- Biking hydration system (e.g., Camelbak)
- Any other bike accessories you prefer (like a padded seat) Things you can get here
- Gas stove, cooking utensils, pots, forks, spoons, etc.
- Second-hand European and U.S. clothing
- African and European cloth that can be made into any kind of clothing you desire at very reasonable prices (if you’re interested in making Western-style clothing you may want to bring a few clothes catalogues with pictures to take to the tailor)
- A wide selection of plastic flip-flops and cheap sunglasses Teachers Only
- Bring your calculator
- If you can find one, a good French/English technical dictionary in your discipline may also be helpful Guidelines for Electronic Equipment in Burkina Faso
The following are a few suggestions put together by staff and Volunteers regarding electronic equipment that you may wish to bring to Burkina Faso. These suggestions are not at all intended to be comprehensive or authoritative, but rather they are meant to provide some guidance in a complicated and confusing area.
- By no means should you think that you must bring a laptop to do your work here. If you don’t have the money for one, don’t worry about it. Volunteers do a wide variety of work with and without computers. However, most Volunteers who have brought laptops are glad that they did. It may make things a lot easier for you, though most Volunteers do not have electricity in their villages and need to charge their laptops elsewhere. A computer is an enormous symbol of wealth in Burkina Faso; if you reveal that you own one, it will affect how people view you and could make you a target for theft.
- The electrical current in Burkina Faso is 220 volts, twice the strength of the current in the U.S. Make sure you understand how to adapt your equipment before you plug it in. In some cases, this simply means turning a switch from 110 to 220; in other cases, you will need a transformer or converter. (One trainee who wasn’t aware of this ruined a laptop when he plugged it in immediately upon arrival.) 110-220 watt converters are of better quality in the U.S. and we suggest purchasing this before arriving in-country.
- Whatever electronic equipment you will need, bring it with you. Almost anything can be purchased here, but often only after a lengthy search, at exorbitant prices and of inferior quality.
- You may type documents in French. Often the software that comes with your computer lets you install a French dictionary and spell check. Load this sort of thing before you come. If you don’t have such a package, consider purchasing one.
- Electrical outlets here have different prongs than in the U.S. Here it’s two round pegs like in France, rather than the two flat prongs as in the U.S. You can buy these adaptors in the U.S., but they are much cheaper (about 40 cents) in Burkina Faso where they are available in most hardware stores. If you choose to purchase it in the U.S., it is called a French adaptor.
- Very few organizations that Volunteers work with have a desktop computer. Floppy disks die very quickly because of heat, dust, and humidity. Volunteers who have UBS jump drives or flash memory are glad they brought them. They can carry documents and pictures around as needed. This is a good idea even if your organization does not have a computer, as all Volunteers can save work done on computers in Ouagadougou.
- There is Internet access now in almost every large town.
This will be at a public cybercafé where you will pay anywhere from $.75 to $3 an hour. Connections can be slow and unreliable. If you have a LAN card in your laptop, often you can hook up directly to the cybercafé’s connection. If you know the staff at the cybercafé, you may be allowed to connect your laptop to their network. (You must know how to configure the proper addresses to connect to the network; it is common that the person in charge of the cybercafé does not know how to configure the network card.)
- Many Volunteers have digital cameras. This is a pretty new technology here. While you will be able to e-mail pictures home, you won’t be able to print them here. A very nice thing to have with the digital camera is a UBS card/memory reader so you can easily transfer pictures to a computer.
- Batteries sold here are of very poor quality. Bring a charger and rechargeable batteries for your camera or you will spend a fortune on batteries.
- Radios, boom boxes, CD players, etc. are very expensive here and often of poor quality. While shortwave radios are available in markets here, many Volunteers suggest bringing your own shortwave from home. (Grundigs are great and they make a hand crank model that doesn’t require batteries. Some Volunteers are fond of World
Space Satellite Radio, but it is expensive.) If you want music, make sure you bring something to play it on; iPods work well. If you don’t have an iPod or MP3 player, many Volunteers bring Discmans and find that they can use these despite the dust. Bring good portable speakers, too.
During your training you will be living with a host family. It would be a good idea not to show off your electronics. If community members know you have something rare and interesting, it will build pressure on you to lend it out, etc.
The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone, and the list does not include everything you should make arrangements for.
- Notify family that they can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; after-hours duty officer: 202.638.2574).
- Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular passport.)
- Complete any needed dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
- Arrange to bring a three-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while you are away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your healthcare during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have preexisting conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage. If there is a lapse in coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
- Purchase personal property insurance to extend from the time you leave your home for service overseas until the time you complete your service and return to the United States.
- Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender or loan service.
- Execute a power of attorney for the management of your property and business.
- Arrange for deductions from your readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.
- Volunteers who served in Burkina Faso
- The Friends of Burkina Faso
- List of resources for Burkina Faso
- Inspector General Reports