From Peace Corps Wiki
For the official Welcome Book for Ecuador see here
PEACE CORPS / ECUADOR
HISTORY OF THE PEACE CORPS IN ECUADOR
The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Ecuador on August 7, 1962. Since that time, more than 5,300 Volunteers have served in Ecuador in almost every imaginable capacity, from working on rural electrification and organic family gardens to teaching in preschool centers and universities. There are not many communities in the country where Peace Corps Volunteers have not left their mark over the past 40 years. One town even has a main street named for a Volunteer who served there many years ago.
As conditions in Ecuador have changed, the Peace Corps has refined and adapted its programs to target those areas most in need of the support the Peace Corps can provide. Peace Corps/Ecuador defines its mission as follows:
Peace Corps/Ecuador promotes sustainable development that will improve the quality of life of the populations with whom we collaborate. Through activities focused on income generation, nonformal education, strengthening local organizations, and protecting the environment, our four programs—habitat conservation, rural public health, sustainable agriculture, and youth and families-are our tools to achieve our goals.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Ecuador
The habitat conservation project focuses on improving the ability of Ecuadorians to manage their natural resources so they will be available for future generations. Because of its location on the equator and its tremendous variation in topography, Ecuador is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. More species of birds, for example, can be found in one hectare in the Ecuadorian rain forest than on the entire North American continent. The same is true for plants.
Unfortunately, Ecuador is losing its primary forests at a rate of 200,000 hectares per year, resulting in climatic changes, soil degradation, and loss of biodiversity. In land being logged near protected areas, for example, some new species are discovered as they become extinct. The habitat conservation project is working in conjunction with several governmental and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to restore and conserve the country’s natural resources. Collaboratively, we are implementing activities such as agroforestry, conservation of protected areas, and urban forestry. Environmental education is an important tool that we use in all our efforts to reinforce the importance of natural resources to the Ecuadorian population, as well as to promote the implementation of sustainable land use activities.
The rural public health project has two main components: micronutrients and HIV/AIDS education. One goal is to reduce death in children under five by reducing malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. In Ecuador, 14 percent of children under age 5 and 18 percent of children between 5 and 12 suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Seventy percent of children under age 5 and 60 percent of pregnant mothers in Ecuador have iron deficiencies. These deficiencies are higher in rural areas, in marginal urban areas, and among families with lower education and income levels.
Volunteers also work to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by training educators, youth workers, health workers, and parents in HIV/AIDS education. Since the first documented case in 1984, there have been 3,700 reported cases of HIV infection and AIDS-related illnesses in Ecuador, according to April 2003 Ministry of Health data. Unofficial estimates put the number of HIV/AIDS cases at between 40,000 and 45,000. Initially, fewer than 38 percent of cases were among women; today the percentage of women infected is 52. The number of pediatric cases has also increased tremendously and continues to do so.
The purpose of the sustainable agriculture project is to increase the income of small farmers by enabling them to make more effective and environmentally friendly use of their land and to get the best possible prices for their products by applying improved business skills and value-added processes. What was previously the small enterprise development project has been incorporated into this project to address business expertise and revenue generation in all sectors. The changing economy in Ecuador is providing new markets for organic produce, and higher input costs mean farmers are more interested in exploring alternatives. Through simultaneous improvements in production, marketing, and post-harvest handling, the project aims to have a much greater impact on small producers than just improving production alone. Production improvements in isolation tend to benefit middlemen as much as or more than small-scale farmers.
The purpose of the youth and families project is to provide youth and families in marginal neighborhoods with more opportunities to improve their quality of life. School dropout, illiteracy, and unemployment among the growing population of low-income, urban youth in Ecuador are of increasing concern. Also associated with urban poverty are the formation of youth gangs, delinquency, drug abuse, and child prostitution. The number of children and youth who live in the streets is increasing in Quito and other major cities. Organizations that attempt to address these problems often lack the resources, experience, or appropriate skills to implement their programs effectively.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: ECUADOR AT A GLANCE
Indigenous cultures flourished in Ecuador long before the Inca empire conquered the area in the 15th century. In 1534, the Spanish arrived and defeated the Incas. The indigenous people were decimated by disease in the first decades of Spanish rule, when they also became forced laborers for the Spanish elite. In 1563, Quito became the seat of a royal audiencia (administrative district) of Spain. After independence forces defeated the royalist army in 1822, Ecuador joined Simón Bolívar’s Republic of Gran Colombia, only to become a separate republic in 1830. The 19th century was marked by instability and a rapid succession of rulers.
Ecuador’s current constitution dates to 1998. During the past decade, there have been a number of changes in the presidency, and the country has often been on the brink of political collapse. Abdala Bucaram, from the Guayaquil-based Roldosist Party, won the presidency in 1996 on a platform that promised populist economic and social reforms and the breaking of the power of the nation’s oligarchy. The Congress deposed Bucaram in February 1997 on grounds of alleged mental incompetence. In his place, Congress named interim President Fabián Alarcón, who had been president of Congress and head of the small Radical Alfarista Front. Alarcón’s interim presidency was endorsed in a popular referendum in May 1997. In the presidential elections of 1998, Quito Mayor Jamil Mahuad won the presidency by a narrow margin. He took office on August 10, 1998, the same day that Ecuador’s new constitution came into effect.
Mahuad concluded a well-received peace agreement in the country’s border war with Peru on October 26, 1998, but increasing economic and fiscal difficulties drove his popularity steadily lower. On January 21, 2000, during demonstrations in Quito by indigenous groups, the military and police refused to enforce public order. Demonstrators entered the Congress building and declared a three-person junta in charge of the country, essentially removing Mahuad from the presidential palace. Congress met in emergency session in Guayaquil on January 22 and ratified Vice President Gustavo Noboa Bejarano as president in constitutional succession to Mahuad.
Lucio Gutierrez was elected to succeed Gustavo Noboa as president in November 2002, but he was ousted by force in April 2005 after his attempt to remove most of the Supreme Court justices and replace them with his hand-picked successors. Vice-President Alfredio Palacio assumed the presidency in April 2005. The next elections are scheduled for August 2006. Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States is Andrés Parral.
The constitution provides for concurrent four-year terms of office for the president, vice president, and members of Congress. Presidents can be reelected after an intervening term, while legislators can be reelected immediately. The executive branch includes 15 ministries. Provincial governors and councilors, like mayors, aldermen, and parish boards, are directly elected. Congress meets throughout the year except for recesses in July and December. There are 20 seven-member congressional committees. The Congress appoints justices of the Supreme Court for indefinite terms.
Ecuador’s economy is based on raw materials products, and its chief exports are oil, bananas, shrimp, and cut flowers. In recent years, economic growth has been uneven, with fluctuations in world market prices having a substantial impact on the domestic economy. The aftermath of El Niño and the depressed oil market from 1997 to 1998 drove Ecuador’s economy into a free-fall. In 1999, the banking sector collapsed, which contributed to Ecuador’s unprecedented default on external loans later that year. Continued economic instability led to a 70 percent depreciation of the currency. In an effort to stabilize the economy, the government switched its currency to the dollar in 2000, but the move did not stave off the ouster of President Jamil Mahuad. Subsequent administrations have found it difficult to push through the reforms necessary to make the currency conversion work in the long run.
Conversion to the dollar has brought short-term stability and has tamed inflation, which fell from 96 percent in 2000 to 2.88 percent in 2004. Yet Ecuador remains a poor country, with per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004 of $3,700, placing it 147th out of 232 countries. In South America, only Bolivia has a lower per capita GDP. Thirty percent of the population has no access to healthcare, 26 percent of children under five suffer chronic malnutrition, and 46 percent of households have no running water. Ecuador has a massive public debt of $16.81 billion, amounting to 49 percent of its entire GDP.
Oil proceeds account for 35 percent of the federal budget. The United States is Ecuador’s main trading partner, followed by Colombia, Japan, and Brazil. Remittances from Ecuadorians living abroad are the country’s second largest source of funds after oil.
People and Culture
The diversity of the country is reflected in its people and culture. The population of about 13.3 million includes a mix of indigenous (i.e., Amerindian) and mestizo (of mixed indigenous and European descent) groups, along with smaller populations of Afro-Ecuadorians and Europeans. There are sizable Afro-Ecuadorian populations in the provinces of Esmeraldas and Carchi. Although Spanish is the official language, the country’s indigenous groups speak numerous other languages, including Kichwa. Many small Amerindian groups, including the Kichwa, are struggling for ethnic and cultural survival. For example, only two dozen or so Záparos still speak their native language.
Ecuador is located in northwestern South America and borders Colombia in the north, Peru in the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean in the west. Its total land area is 276,840 square kilometers, or just over 110,000 square miles—about the size of Colorado. The border with Peru was only recently agreed to by both sides after years of intermittent armed conflict. Ecuador is divided into 22 provinces, one of which is the Galápagos Islands, located in the Pacific about 600 miles off the west coast.
Ecuador is one of the world’s treasures of biodiversity. The Andes Mountains, with their snowcapped volcanoes, divide the generally drier coastal plain from the moist, tropical Amazon Basin region. The wide variety of environmental conditions supports an equally wide variety of plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else on earth.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Ecuador 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. If you do not have access to the Internet, please visit your local library. Libraries offer free Internet usage and often let you print information to take home.
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 experiences, 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 Ecuador
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. Find Ecuador and learn more about its social and political history.
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 for about 228 countries.
The site of the Latin American Network Information Center links to a variety of resources on Latin America.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
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 hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts of their Peace Corps service.
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.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Ecuador
Yahoo’s news service links to recent articles from a variety of sources.
Information on culture, language, art, food, and travel
Useful tips for those moving to Ecuador
Daily news about Ecuador from the World News Network
Health statistics on Ecuador from UNICEF
International Development Sites About Ecuador
This site provides links to nongovernmental organizations working in a variety of sectors in Ecuador.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization provides an overview of Ecuador’s natural resources.
- Beirne, Barbara. The Children of the Ecuadorean Highlands. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1996.
- Blankenship, Judy. Canar: A Year in the Highlands of Ecuador. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2005.
- Collaredo-Masfield, Rudi. The Native Leisure Class: Consumption and Cultural Creativity in the Andes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
- Handelsman, Michael. Culture and Customs of Ecuador. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000.
- Miller, Tom. The Panama Hat Trail. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2001 (paperback).
- Peck, Robert McGracken. Headhunters and Hummingbirds: An Expedition Into Ecuador. New York: Walker & Co., 1987.
- Whitten, Norman E. Millennial Ecuador: Critical Essays on Cultural Transformations and Social Dynamics. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2003.
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, N.Y.: Picador, 2003.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, N.Y.: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, Calif.: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Until you have your own address, you can receive mail at Peace Corps/Ecuador’s post office box:
“Your Name,” PCV (for Volunteer) or PCT (for trainee)
Cuerpo de Paz
It takes a week to 10 days for a letter from the United States to reach the Peace Corps office by international mail. Once you are living at your assigned site, mail may take from two to four weeks to reach you.
Receiving packages through international mail can be difficult, since all packages must go through Ecuadorian customs and you may have to make a special trip to Quito to pick up the package. All packages are opened by customs, and there is usually a significant customs charge. If the package contains items that may not be imported, like chocolates, customs officials may confiscate the items. Although some Volunteers have received small packages at their sites without having the packages pass through customs, this method is unpredictable.
Many Volunteers have had luck receiving items sent in padded envelopes. We therefore recommend that families and friends send only small items and try to keep the weight of any packages under two kilos (4.4 pounds), clearly marking the contents. They should not send anything via couriers such as DHL and Federal Express, which are more expensive than the Postal Service.
Peace Corps regulations prohibit Volunteers from accepting gifts of property, money, or voluntary services directly. Such gifts can cause confusion about the role of the Volunteer, who might be perceived as a facilitator of goods and funding, rather than as a person who is working to build a community’s capacity to identify local resources. You are not permitted to solicit materials or funds for your community during your first six months at site. This allows you time to understand the developmental needs of the community and begin to engage the community in project identification. To ensure that any request for funding or donations is appropriate for your project and your community, you must have prior authorization from your project director and country director.
The Peace Corps has a mechanism in place for you and the communities you work with to access U.S. private-sector funds. The Peace Corps Partnership Program, administered by the Office of Private Sector Initiatives, can help you obtain financial support from corporations, foundations, civic groups, individuals, faith-based groups, and schools for projects approved by the country director. To learn more about the Partnership Program, call 800.424.8580 (extension 2170); e-mail email@example.com; or visit www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.donors. volproj.
Peace Corps/Ecuador’s office is located at the following address: Av. Granda Centeno # OE 4-250, y Baron de Carondelet, Quito, Ecuador. The telephone numbers of the office are 227.6300, 227.2824, 245.5007, or 800.723.282 (tollfree only within Ecuador); the fax number is 227.3763.
To use these numbers from the United States, you must first dial 011 for access to the international network, 593 for Ecuador (country code), and 2 for Quito. Note that after regular business hours and on weekends and holidays, the person answering the phone is not likely to speak English.
To reach you in an emergency, your family should call the Office of Special Services at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., at 800.424.8580, extension 1470 (or 202.638.2574 during non-business hours). The Office of Special Services will then contact Peace Corps/Ecuador.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Because Ecuador is a popular tourist destination, there are Internet cafes throughout the country. Almost all Volunteers in Ecuador have e-mail addresses and, except for those posted to the most remote sites, are able to check e-mail and access the Internet at least once a month. In addition, computers with Internet access are available for Volunteers to use at the Peace Corps office in Quito.
Housing and Site Location
All Volunteer housing is reviewed and approved by Peace Corps staff prior to occupancy. Some Volunteers live with a family for a month or so when they first move to their sites. This helps Volunteers get to know the community better before making a permanent housing decision. Volunteers in the youth and families project work in marginal urban neighborhoods and almost all are required to live with a family during their entire two years of service. For reasons of safety, security, and cultural integration, the Peace Corps recommends that Volunteers in all projects consider living with a host family.
Housing varies greatly by site. Most Volunteers live and work in rural communities, but a few work in urban settings. Some live in buildings with up-to-date plumbing and electrical systems. Others may have a small adobe house with a pit latrine in the back and one or two bare light bulbs for illumination. A few Volunteers live in very isolated sites without electricity or running water.
Volunteer sites are located throughout the country but generally are clustered in several regions so that Volunteers from all four project areas and from older and newer groups are located relatively close to one another. In most cases, you will be located, at most, within two or three hours of other Volunteers. There are some areas of the country where the Peace Corps does not place any Volunteers, either because the level of development is such that Volunteers are no longer needed or because of safety and security concerns (e.g., the jungle regions on the Colombian border).
Living Allowance and Money Management
Peace Corps/Ecuador will open a bank account for you and provide you with a bank book and an ATM card. Your monthly living allowance will be deposited into this account at the beginning of each month. Most Volunteers travel to a nearby commercial town every week or two to withdraw cash, check their mail, and shop for items not available in their communities. Many Volunteers bring a credit card, additional cash, or traveler’s checks for emergency expenses and travel, which can be kept in the safe at the Peace Corps office in Quito (up to a maximum of $1,000 in cash and traveler’s checks).
The living allowance is calculated to allow you to live at the level of the general population. Volunteers who spend most of their time in their community find that they have adequate resources, while those who choose to travel often to the major cities tend to find their budgets stretched at the end of the month.
Food and Diet
Wonderful fruits—including many you may never have tried-are plentiful throughout the country in season. Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas, and there are many varieties. Meat, especially pork, is commonly eaten by those who can afford it. Foods are often fried. Soy, peanut, and sunflower oils are available, but butter, vegetable oil, and pork fat are more commonly used.
Some combination of rice, potatoes, bread, noodles, and bananas is included in most meals. Eggs, chicken, and dairy products will probably be your main sources of protein. A favorite local seasoning is aji (pronounced ah-hee), a spicy sauce that runs from mild to quite hot.
If you plan to cook for yourself, you may want to bring some spices with you. Caraway, dill, tarragon, chili powder, and spices used in Indian, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern dishes are difficult or impossible to find in Ecuador. Supermarkets in the large cities have most basic spices, however.
If you are a vegetarian, follow a low-fat or low-cholesterol diet, or have food allergies, you will have to be patient and inventive to satisfy your needs. Most vegetarian Volunteers have been able to adjust to the Ecuadorian diet without major problems.
When offered food as a guest or as a member of a host family’s household, you may have difficulty convincing people of your need for a special diet. You may also encounter difficulty in turning down alcoholic beverages, especially if you are male. If you refuse what is offered when you are a visitor in someone’s home, you may offend your host. Strategies for dealing with these types of situations will be discussed during pre-service training.
Your job may require occasional or frequent travel within the area where you are assigned. Although you may be able to travel in your host agency’s vehicle, riding a bicycle or a horse, and/or walking is often the only way to reach small communities or distant farms. The Peace Corps provides mountain bikes (and helmets, which must be used) to Volunteers who require them for their work.
Most of your long-distance travel will be by crowded public bus. A number of reliable bus lines with modern equipment run throughout the country. One-way travel using domestic airlines is an option for Volunteers in the southernmost provinces of the country.
Volunteers are not authorized to operate any type of motorized vehicle in Ecuador. Motorcycle riding (as driver or passenger) is prohibited.
Geography and Climate
The four main areas of Ecuador have different climates. Because the country is on the equator, the temperature depends on the altitude, not the season. There are only two seasons—rainy and dry.
The highlands area, or sierra, is warm during the day (60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit) and cool at night (35 to 55 degrees). Several layers of clothing may be necessary. The dry season tends to be warm and dusty. In the rainy season, temperatures are about 10 degrees cooler.
The coastal area, or costa, is generally hot and humid. The rainy season, January through April, is hot (80 to 95 degrees), and mold is sometimes a problem. The dry season, May through December, is slightly cooler (70 to 85 degrees).
The Amazon Basin region, or oriente, is usually warm and muggy. Temperatures fluctuate greatly during the day, ranging from 60 to 90 degrees. Although there are dry and rainy seasons, it rains year-round and mold is a constant problem.
The Galápagos Islands are hot and dry most of the time, but the pleasant ocean breezes make the temperatures more comfortable.
Ecuadorian entertainment, especially in small towns, centers on drinking, dancing, and talking. Movies are also popular in Ecuador, although recent releases from the United States (with Spanish subtitles) are usually delayed by several months. The movies shown are often martial arts, horror, or Mexican slapstick films. Large towns usually have at least one movie theater, and many also have video/DVD stores. Small cities have a public library and cultural activities at the local Casa de la Cultura.
Ecuadorians love music and love to dance, and many Volunteers enjoy learning salsa, cumbia, and merengue from Ecuadorian friends. Radio stations play a variety of music, including some American rock and pop. Many Volunteers make their own music, bringing or purchasing a guitar, violin, flute, harmonica, and so forth. Ecuadorian craftsmen make very good guitars that are not expensive.
Sports are very popular in Ecuador, especially soccer,
basketball, and volleyball. Soccer is a national—indeed, Latin
American—passion, similar to baseball in the United States but more so. Volunteers will have many opportunities to play sports informally in their communities. Occasionally, Volunteers even coach local teams.
Volunteers spend a lot of time reading. Although local bookstores carry books in English, prices are higher than in the United States. Volunteers who learn Spanish well enough will, of course, find many books and magazines available. The Peace Corps office has an extensive library, and Volunteers often trade books with one another. Although you will probably want to bring some paperback books with you, it is a good idea to ask your family and friends to send you a book occasionally.
Alcohol plays a big role in social activities, and Volunteers are advised to use their best judgment when consuming alcohol. There is a high correlation between alcohol use and crimes committed against Volunteers ranging from petty theft to physical assault and rape.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
“Neat and modest” sums up the dress code for Volunteers in Ecuador. Since most Volunteers are assigned to rural or marginally developed urban sites, there is rarely a need for more formal attire. You will be working as a professional development worker, however, and inappropriate dress may make Ecuadorians less receptive to you. When you visit the office of a counterpart agency, you should wear clothing that is slightly more formal than what you wear daily. For such visits, skirts or dress slacks for women and slacks and button-down shirts with collars for men are appropriate. During training, and less often as a Volunteer, there will be a few occasions, such as the swearing-in ceremony or a wedding, when men will want to wear jackets and ties and women will want to wear dresses.
Women should not wear halter tops, low-cut blouses, miniskirts, and any other attire that could be considered revealing. While young Ecuadorian women in the larger lowland cities do wear such items, cultural stereotypes regarding American women are only exacerbated by revealing attire, sometimes leading to unwanted attention or harassment. Ripped or patched jeans, tank tops, flip-flops, shorts, and body piercings (other than pierced ears) are unacceptable for men and women during training and in any professional or office setting in Ecuador.
Earrings are acceptable for women but generally not for men. Younger men in large cities occasionally wear earrings, but, as foreigners, male Volunteers should not wear earrings, especially outside of major cities. Hair and beards should be neatly trimmed and clean at all times. Since dreadlocks are associated with the use of illegal drugs, Volunteers may not wear them.
Most of the indigenous populations live in the highlands, where the cold and rain often keep people indoors for days at a time. People in the highlands tend to be more reserved and formal, and many still retain their traditional dress and languages. Life in the lowland and coastal regions is often less formal, with loud music and people conversing in the streets—a common feature of everyday life. Even in these regions, however, business and social interactions have a greater degree of formality than what Americans are accustomed to. The rituals of greeting and acknowledgment are an important part of doing business, and failure to adhere to these customs may be viewed negatively. You will learn a great deal about these customs during pre-service training.
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 Ecuador 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 Ecuador. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
The total time of your commitment to Peace Corps/Ecuador is 27 months—which includes approximately three months of pre-service training and 24 months of Peace Corps service upon successful completion of training. Peace Corps service is not for everyone. Requiring greater dedication and commitment than most jobs, it is for confident, self-starting, and concerned individuals who are interested in helping other countries and increasing understanding across cultural barriers. Your willingness to serve in smaller towns and cities and to give up U.S. standards of space and privacy in your living accommodations will be greatly appreciated by Ecuadorians.
The key to satisfying work as a Peace Corps Volunteer is the ability to establish successful relationships at all levels, which requires patience, sensitivity, and a positive professional attitude. It is essential that you work with Ecuadorian counterparts to ensure that tasks begun during your service will continue after your departure. It is also important to realize that while you may have a lot of energy and motivation, you will be in Ecuador for only two years. Your colleagues will probably continue to work in the same job after you leave—for little money—and may not possess quite the same level of motivation. Often you will find yourself in situations that require the ability to motivate both yourself and your colleagues and to solve problems with little or no guidance from supervisors. You may work for months without seeing any visible impact from, and without receiving feedback on, your work. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results. Nevertheless, you will have a sense of accomplishment when small projects are rendered effective as a result of your efforts. Acceptance into a foreign culture and the acquisition of a second or even a third language are also significant rewards.
Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the valleys, and most Volunteers leave Ecuador feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. Indeed, many former Volunteers will readily tell you that their Peace Corps service was the most significant experience of their lives.
PEACE CORPS TRAINING
Overview of Pre-Service Training
The 10-week training period is a time for you and the Peace Corps to reexamine your commitment to being a Volunteer in Ecuador. Participation in training does not guarantee that you will become a Volunteer. While we fully expect you to successfully complete training, there are certain goals you must achieve before you can be sworn in as a Volunteer. These goals include attaining a minimum level of ability in the Spanish language (as measured by a standard oral exam), gaining the required technical knowledge, and demonstrating your ability to live and work within the framework of the local culture (as assessed by staff members), while following Peace Corps’ guidance for safety and security and personal health. These goals are equally important. Not only must you be able to do your job, but you must be able to do it in a culturally acceptable way. You will be evaluated and advised by both American and Ecuadorian members of the training staff regarding your progress.
Throughout pre-service training, you will be encouraged to continue examining your personal motivation for having joined the Peace Corps and your level of commitment, so that by the time you are invited to swear in as a Volunteer, you are making an informed and serious commitment that will sustain you through the full two years of service.
Ninety percent of training takes place in a community setting, where you will experience living and working conditions similar to those at the site where you will be assigned. During this community-based training period, you will live with an Ecuadorian family and be expected to take full advantage of the opportunity to immerse yourself in the language and culture. Three to five trainees are assigned to each community.
Technical training will prepare you to work in Ecuador by building on the skills you already have and helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff, Ecuadorian 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 economic and political environment in Ecuador and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Ecuadorian agencies, organizations, and community contacts 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 be a productive member of your community.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance—they help you integrate into your community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings. Therefore, language training is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer. Language training occurs primarily in communities, through interacting with families, community members, and agencies. Along with formal language sessions, language training is also integrated in health, safety, cultural, and technical training activities. High intermediate or advanced speakers are expected to identify alternative learning opportunities in their communities that focus on needs in their future sites. Advanced speakers are expected to structure their own learning with facilitators to help process activities.
Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to formal language learning, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills further on your own. Prior to being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies once you are at your site.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with an Ecuadorian 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 Ecuador. 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 gender and development, positive community development strategies, and nonformal and adult education strategies.
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. Trainees are required to attend all medical sessions. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in Ecuador. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living area, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other STDs 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 four training events. The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
- Reconnect conference: Four to five months after beginning service, Volunteers get together for a two- or three-day program in which they review their first few months of service, provide input to Peace Corps/Ecuador, and learn new technical and language skills.
- In-service trainings: These provide an opportunity for Volunteers and their counterparts to upgrade their technical, language, and project development skills while sharing their experiences.
- Local technical training: Provides cross-sector training opportunities, depending on community interest, coordinated with the regional Volunteer coordinators.
- Close of service conference: Prepares Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service, reviews their respective projects and personal experiences, and provides a forum for Peace Corps/Ecuador to discuss Volunteers’ ideas for improving the program in Ecuador. 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 ECUADOR
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Ecuador maintains a medical office staffed with medical officers who are registered nurses with many years of experience in caring for Volunteers. They are qualified to take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs, but Volunteers are referred to local physicians, labs, and hospitals when necessary. If you develop a serious medical problem, the medical officers will consult with the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services in Washington. If it is determined that your condition cannot be cared for in Ecuador, you may be sent to the United States or Panama for further evaluation and care.
Health Issues in Ecuador
Although you may suffer some minor illnesses in Ecuador, if you take the proper precautions you can expect to have a healthy and safe two years. If you become seriously ill, however, Ecuador has some of the best hospitals and specialists in South America. Details of some health issues in Ecuador follow.
Diarrheal illness is the biggest health problem for Volunteers around the world, including Ecuador. This problem can be prevented with proper food and water preparation, which will be discussed during pre-service training.
Altitude varies greatly among Ecuador’s four geographical zones, and Quito is at 9,300 feet above sea level. Problems common in the first few days at a high altitude are headaches, indigestion, and shortness of breath.
Malaria is a serious health threat in the coastal and jungle areas of Ecuador. In addition to using insect repellent and mosquito nets (provided by Peace Corps), Volunteers assigned to these areas are required to malaria prophylaxis to prevent malaria.
Peace Corps service can be a stressful experience, and you may need to put all your positive coping skills to work. The Peace Corps medical officers are available to help you with your emotional needs and can refer you to English-speaking counselors. Peace Corps/Ecuador also has a Volunteer peer support network.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Unless you present proof of prior vaccination, you will receive immunizations against yellow fever; measles, mumps, and rubella; diphtheria and tetanus; polio; typhoid; hepatitis A and B; and rabies. Upon your arrival in Ecuador, you will receive a medical handbook and 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. Peace Corps/Ecuador does not provide water filters to Volunteers. Volunteers are expected to boil water for consumption, as this is the most effective means of purifying water.
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 for you 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 might consider switching from name-brand to generic drugs, as the Peace Corps medical officer may not be able to purchase certain name-brand prescriptions. Note that the medical office does not carry every type of birth control pill.
You will have a medical checkup at midservice and a complete physical exam at the end of your service. After you have been in-country for a year, the Peace Corps will also provide an annual dental checkup and cleaning and, for women, an annual Pap test.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you are the person most responsible for maintaining your 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 may not always be up to the standards of the United States.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To reduce risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV or other STDs. You will receive more information from 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 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.
Sanitary pads are readily available in Ecuador. Tampons, however, are difficult to find and very expensive. If you use tampons, you should bring your own supply, as Peace Corps/Ecuador does not provide them.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (DiGel)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleanser
Aspirin or acetaminophen
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Lozenges for sore throat and cough
Oral rehydration salts
Sterile gauze pads
Sudafed (nasal decongestant)
Sunscreen (SPF 15)
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 Ecuador. 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 Ecuador. 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. You are encouraged to consult with your physician about changing any prescription medicine you take to the generic equivalents. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, including special vitamins (E, B, antioxidants, etc.), personal hygiene or beauty products, nicotine patches, Viagra, hair growth products, or St. John’s wort. 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 along with your current prescription. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it. While many Volunteers wear contact lenses without problems, the Peace Corps discourages their use because of the increased risk of developing eye infections. 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. The Peace Corps will not pay for or replace sunglasses but strongly encourages you to bring sunglasses to Ecuador because of the strong equatorial sun.
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 Ecuador as compared to all other Inter-America and Pacific (IAP) region programs as a whole, from 2000–2004. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps’ classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
Security Issues in Ecuador
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 Ecuador. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions in large towns, for instance, are favorite work sites for pickpockets.
The Peace Corps has not been immune to the violent crime that seems to be on the upswing in so many societies. In Ecuador, incidents of home burglaries, robberies, assaults, and sexual harassment have become more common. Overconsumption of alcohol is one of the highest risk factors for assaults against Volunteers in Ecuador. During training, you will receive information on safety issues specific to your home, your community, and travel. Although the Peace Corps cannot guarantee complete safety anywhere in the world, the more informed and aware you are, the more likely it is you will be able to avoid risky or dangerous situations.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
Peace Corps Volunteers sometimes are the targets of crime because people view them as “rich” North Americans. Living with an Ecuadorian family is one way to reduce this risk, as your “family,” friends, and colleagues will look out for you. Indeed, your site is the safest place you can be.
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 home is secure, and develop relationships in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Ecuador, 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 Ecuador requires that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
While whistles and verbal harassment 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. Wearing expensive clothing or carrying accessories such as backpacks, cameras, or MP3 players can make you an attractive target for thieves. Keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch, the kind that 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. Especially when traveling, it is a good idea to distribute money in several places. You should always walk with a companion at night.
Do not bring expensive items to Ecuador, whether they be clothes or electronics. The Peace Corps does not cover the loss of personal property and highly recommends that you insure any valuable belongings that you bring with you. The Peace Corps will provide you with information on purchasing personal property insurance, but it is your responsibility to obtain and pay for it.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Ecuador
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. Peace Corps/Ecuador’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Ecuador office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be provided in Volunteer newsletters and in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Ecuador. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout your two-year service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. 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/Ecuador’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 must complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, a map to your house, and the name of a person in the community who will know your whereabouts. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Ecuador will follow predetermined procedures, which could entail staying at one’s site and refraining from travel or gathering at prearranged locations until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to take further action.
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 CROSS-CULTURAL 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 Ecuador, as in other Peace Corps 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 Ecuador.
Outside of Ecuador’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 in some countries that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Ecuador are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Ecuador, 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 your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Ecuador
The Peace Corps staff in Ecuador 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. There are a number of support groups in Ecuador, including a Peer Support Network of trained Volunteers in each region, that meet a few times a year to discuss and deal with challenges faced by specific groups.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Gender roles in Ecuador are markedly different from those in the United States. Most Ecuadorian women, especially those in rural areas, have traditional roles: They run the household, prepare meals, clean, and rear children. Many women also work in the fields, run small businesses, and care for farm animals. Men also have specific roles, and “manliness” is considered very important. Although many Volunteers are bothered by these gender roles, it is important to understand them to be effective in your work.
It is not uncommon for women to receive stares, comments, and offers of dates on the street or in other situations. Female Volunteers are obvious targets because they often look quite different from Ecuadorian women. Female Volunteers must learn how to handle these situations and sometimes have to accept constraints on their behavior that male Volunteers do not face.
Male Volunteers also encounter harassment, though less frequently. If you do not drink, smoke, or like to pursue women openly, you may be teased about not being manly enough and pressured to participate in these activities. Male Volunteers who cook, wash clothes and dishes, and clean the house may seem very strange to their neighbors.
All Volunteers have to adjust to the gender norms and different ways of doing things in Ecuador. Pre-service training will orient you to these norms and customs.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Ecuador has a variety of ethnic groups, including an Afro-Ecuadorian population concentrated in a couple of areas of the country. Thus African-American Volunteers are likely to stand out more for their manner of dress and lifestyle than for their ethnic background, especially if they live in these particular areas. And since Afro-Ecuadorians are a visible minority subject to negative attitudes or discrimination, African-American Volunteers may experience similar treatment.
Volunteers of color may encounter verbal harassment on the street—especially when away from their sites in larger towns or cities. Asian Americans may be called chino or china even if they are not of Chinese descent. However, comments or jokes regarding race or ethnicity are more likely to be used in a descriptive sense than in a derogatory sense. Most of them arise from misinformation or unfamiliarity with other races and cultures rather than mean-spiritedness. You will find it helpful to maintain a positive attitude about yourself and to approach any negative comments with patience and confidence.
Ecuadorians (particularly in rural areas) tend to think of all Americans as Anglo. For Anglo-Americans who have had little experience with being the only one of their kind in a community, being the center of attention because of one’s nationality, regardless of race or ethnicity, may sometimes feel uncomfortable.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers=
In general, older members of the community are well respected in Ecuador. Specific challenges for senior Volunteers most often are related to language acquisition and adaptation to the relatively basic living conditions of Ecuador.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
While some Ecuadorians in larger cities are open about their sexual orientation, gay, lesbian, or bisexual Volunteers will have to be very circumspect with their Ecuadorian colleagues. There are support mechanisms for gays and lesbians within the Peace Corps community, but not many in the broader society.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in Ecuador. Other religious groups are increasingly visible, however, and tolerance of other religions is fairly high. In some smaller communities, divisions exist across religious lines, and Volunteers need to understand these and be careful about being seen as aligned exclusively with one side or the other.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
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 Ecuador without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Ecuador 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.
That being said, Ecuador is not generally an accessible country. Places that make accommodations for those with physical disabilities are generally restricted to small areas in the largest cities. The major cities, however, do offer a broad range of good healthcare for the disabled.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Ecuador?
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 and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches (length + width + height). The larger piece of checked luggage may not exceed 62 inches, and both pieces together may not exceed 107 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds for any one bag. Keep in mind that with the exception of the initial trip to the training site, you will be responsible for transporting your luggage around Ecuador.
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 Ecuador?
The current is 110 volts, 60 cycles, the same as in the United States. Some towns, however, do not have electricity.
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. ATMs are widely available in larger towns and cities.
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 special situations that have been approved by the country director. 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 personal property 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, 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 Ecuador 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 trucks and lots of walking.
What should I bring as gifts for Ecuadorian 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?
During the fourth week of pre-service training, trainees attend a “site fair” at which available sites (e.g., the coast, the highlands or sierra, the Amazon Basin region or oriente, and possibly the Galápagos Islands) are described. Although Peace Corps staff must assess your technical and language skills and finalize site selections with your counterparts prior to making a site assignment, you will have an opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions. 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 usually are within two or three hours from the nearest fellow 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, extensions, 2516, 2515, or 2525.
Can I call home from Ecuador?
Telephone service from Ecuador to the United States is generally quite good, and all of the major calling card services are available (i.e., AT&T, Sprint, and MCI). Most communities have a telephone office where you can call the United States collect or pay for the call on the spot. Very few Volunteers have phones in their homes, but many have neighbors with phones. (Note that it is not a good idea to use a neighbor’s phone with the promise to repay the phone owner later.)
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
There are two major cellular phone companies in Ecuador that provide service in most of the large urban areas. While coverage is expanding, some Volunteer sites are in areas that do not have cellular service. Costs are decreasing as a result of competition, so some Volunteers buy a local cellphone (most U.S. cellphones are not compatible with the Ecuadorian system) and purchase prepaid cards for service. Keep in mind that cellphones are very much in demand and that theft is an issue for any Volunteer who has a cellphone.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Because it is a major tourist destination, Ecuador is well supplied with Internet cafes. In fact, there are so many of them in Quito that prices are quite low as a result of the intense competition. In addition to e-mail services, most Internet cafes offer phone call alternatives such as Net2Phone. Peace Corps/Ecuador neither recommends nor discourages bringing a computer, but it should be made clear that computers are easily stolen, so you should purchase personal property insurance if you decide to bring one.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Ecuador 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 restriction on baggage. If you are buying luggage, we recommended that you consider the easy-to-carry variety rather than hard suitcases. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Ecuador, including custom-made clothing.
Since you may live in chilly mountains, the hot and humid coast or jungle, or a more temperate transition zone, this can only be a general guide.
- One or two pairs of nice pants
- One to four pairs of heavy work pants or jeans (ag and habitat conservation Volunteers usually need more and rural public health and youth and families Volunteers usually need less)
- Six T-shirts or short-sleeved polo shirts (T-shirts are readily available in Ecuador unless you need something larger than XL)
- One or two dress up outfits
- Two or three long-sleeved or turtleneck shirts
- Two to four (or more) pairs of shorts (not too short)
- 12 pairs of cotton underwear
- One or two pairs of long underwear or other clothes to layer
- 12 pairs of good-quality socks
- Two or three pairs (or more) of heavy wool socks
- Two or three sweaters (you can also buy them locally) or a fleeces
- Two (or more)sweatshirts
- Two pairs of sweatpants (or leggings or warm tights for women)
- One heavy jacket
- One waterproof windbreaker or poncho
- One pair of heavy work gloves
- One bathrobe or long T-shirt (useful when sharing a bathroom with a host family)
- One or two bathing suits
- One or two sun hats, visors, or caps with a bill (the sun is very strong in Ecuador)
- Six or more bras (available locally)
- One or two nice dresses or modest sundresses (read above) For Men
- One sport coat (read above)
- One or two neckties
(remember that it is difficult to find shoe sizes over 10)
- Two pairs of tennis or running shoes
- One pair of good-quality work boots, if you are in the agriculture or habitat conservation programs
- One or two pairs of dress shoes
- One pair of flip-flops (for showers or wearing around the house), sandals (easily purchased locally), or Tevas
- One pair of rain/mud boots
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- Shampoo and other toiletries are readily available in Ecuador, but if you use special brands, bring a supply with you
- Hand sanitizer
- Contact lens solutions and extra cases and travel bottles, if you wear contacts (available in larger cities, but a little more expensive than in the United States)
- Skin So Soft by Avon (some people use it as a bug repellent)
- Tampons (extremely expensive in Ecuador)
- Makeup (U.S. brands are expensive here)
Most of the following items can be bought in Quito, but they will cost more than they do in the United States and may be of lesser quality. Dishes, eating utensils, and spices can be found locally at reasonable prices. You will receive a cookbook during training.
- General cookbook and favorite recipes
- Water bottle (Nalgene is recommended)
- Small steamer basket
- Nonstick frying pan (if you require the best quality)
- Sharp kitchen knife
- Paring knife
- Garlic press
- Plastic storage bags
- Spices (except lemon pepper) are available locally
- Two pairs sheets (full size is recommended) and pillowcases (available locally—prices vary according to quality)
- Towels (available locally—prices vary according to quality)
- Film (expensive locally)
- Portable music player
- Charger and rechargeable batteries
- Sunglasses (with UV protection-IMPORTANT)
- Collapsible umbrella (available locally)
- Combination lock
- Wide colored markers and other art supplies (available locally, but expensive)
- Decorations for your room or apartment (e.g., posters, maps, and postcards of your hometown)
- Favorite books and “how to” books with illustrations (Many Volunteers teach English formally or informally so “Ingles Para Dummies” or other related is a good resource)
- Flea collars, if you plan to have a pet
- Equipment for hobbies, such as sewing patterns (expensive and hard to find in Ecuador) and musical instruments (you can buy a good handmade guitar in Ecuador)
- Favorite games, Frisbee, Nerf footballs, etc.
- Knapsack or day pack (IMPORTANT)
- Medium-size backpack or duffel bag for weekend travel (available locally, but expensive)
- Photos of family and friends (IMPORTANT)
- Pillow, if you have a favorite one
- Pocket calculator, if you will need it for your work
- Sleeping bag (useful if you plan to travel a lot)
- Small flashlight
- Small pocket calendar or daily planner
- Shortwave radio
- Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool
- Travel alarm and watch (nothing flashy or expensive)
- Small tool kit (available locally, but expensive so only bring if you would normally use one)
- U.S. stamps (to send letters with staff or Volunteers traveling to the United States)
Remember, after training you will have to get all of your luggage to your site by yourself and only a few of you will live in big cities with good public transportation. So if you bring it, you will have to carry it! Big suitcases with wheels don’t work too well on dirt or gravel roads. There will also be many Volunteers completing their two years of service about the time you begin your service, so they will have many items to sell.
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 should call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; 24-hour duty officer: 202.638.2574).
- Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular passport.)
- Complete any needed dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
- Arrange to bring a three-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your 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 supplemental health coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated for insurance. This is especially true when insurance companies know you have predictable expenses and are in an upper age bracket.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas(Voting assistance provided at Peace Corps).
- Purchase personal property insurance to cover the entire period of your Peace Corps service (from staging to close of service). Information about such insurance should be in your invitation kit.
- 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.