El Salvador

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==See Also==
==See Also==
[http://www.fijateque.net/volunteers/prgeneral/Volunteer_handbook2.doc Peace Corps El Salvador Volunteer Handbook (2003)]  
[http://www.fijateque.net/volunteers/prgeneral/Volunteer_handbook2.doc Peace Corps El Salvador Volunteer Handbook (2003)]  
==See also==
* [[Volunteers who served in El Salvador]]
==External links==
* [http://www.peacecorpsjournals.com/es.html Peace Corps Journals - El Salvador]
[[Category:El Salvador]] [[Category:Central America and Mexico]]
[[Category:El Salvador]] [[Category:Central America and Mexico]]

Revision as of 18:21, 14 February 2008

For the official Welcome Book for El Salvador see here




History of the Peace Corps in El Salvador

The Peace Corps was invited to El Salvador and sent its first Volunteers in 1963. Over the next 15 years, more than 1,500 Volunteers worked in 15 to 20 different sectors, serving primarily as counterparts to government agencies and offices. In 1979, the increasing violence prior to the civil war led the Peace Corps to close its offices. The destruction of economic and social infrastructure during the war set El Salvador back to 1950s levels in most economic and social indicators. The 1986 earthquake destroyed much of what the war did not, especially in San Salvador. Moreover, widespread migration led to the breakdown of many social and family institutions and particularly affected youth and the environment.

History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in El Salvador

The government of El Salvador invited the Peace Corps to return to El Salvador in 1993. The first Volunteers arrived later that year. They were asked to increase the capacity of local people in several priority areas identified by the government and later affirmed by civil society in the Plan de Nación, or National Plan, presented in 2000. The National Plan is a blueprint for national development, and Peace Corps programming is consistent with its priorities. The role of Peace Corps Volunteers remains to build capacity in local people and institutions.

Currently, approximately 120 Volunteers serve in four primary project areas: agroforestry and environmental education, municipal development, rural health and sanitation and youth development.

Agroforestry and Environmental Education Volunteers educate farmers about sustainable soil conservation and integrated pest management practices that incorporate environmentally friendly applications, diminish the use of chemicals, and improve soil fertility. They also teach the youth, farmers and organizations of their communities to preserve, protect, and enhance the environment in which they live.

Rural health and sanitation Volunteers work with community groups and international organizations to increase access to potable water and improve sanitation for rural residents. Volunteers also educate people on the dangers of HIV/AIDS and other health-related subjects.

Municipal development Volunteers work with local governments to improve service delivery to citizens and to increase citizen participation. Volunteers assigned to municipalities assist in meeting the public service demands of the communities, while helping communities to articulate their needs to their municipal representatives. Volunteers have also begun to introduce their communities to disaster planning and mitigation techniques to better prepare them for crisis situations arising from natural disasters.

Youth development Volunteers collaborate with youth leaders, parents, teachers and local institutions as part of an integreated approach to address issues of youth development.

Volunteers promote activities for youth to expand their critical thinking ability and foster their capacity to make sound decisions and to demonstrate moral, social, emotional, physical and cognitive competence. The program is designed to address challenges youth face both in the home and at work to help them develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to become active, contributing members of their communities.

Volunteers in all projects are also involved in cross-cutting themes including gender awareness, HIV/AIDS education, environmental education and information technology. In addition, Volunteers undertake a myriad of secondary projects in the communities where they live and work. In all of these projects and activities, Volunteer’s counterparts are government and non-governmental organizations and people from the community. As always, the Peace Corps’ efforts are focused on the less fortunate.



Like most of Central America, El Salvador’s history is marked by conquest and turbulence. Its early indigenous people were the Pipils, members of a warlike tribe from Central Mexico that resembled the Aztecs more than the Mayans. After Pedro de Alvarado conquered the region, centuries of Spanish domination followed. There was little gold and few precious minerals within the territory that is now El Salvador, but its agricultural abundance was quickly recognized, and a series of agricultural crops have dominated its economic history: cacao, indigo, coffee, cotton, and sugar cane.

El Salvador was a leader in the movement to integrate the five Central American countries. In 1823, it helped to found the United Provinces of Central America and even once petitioned the United States for statehood. In 1838, after regional rivalries and conflicts doomed integration, it became a republic.

El Salvador’s early history as an independent state was marked by frequent revolutions. Not until the period 19001930 was relative stability achieved. The economic elite ruled the country in conjunction with the military, and the power structure was controlled by a relatively small number of wealthy landowners. From 1932—the year of General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez’s coup following his brutal suppression of rural resistance—until 1980, all but one Salvadoran president was an army officer. Periodic presidential elections were seldom free or fair.

The 1980s, known as El Salvador’s “lost decade,” was dominated by war and social upheaval. The fighting ended with the signing of the U.N.-brokered 1992 Peace Accords, and the country is now considered by many as a model for moving beyond war and oppression to peace and democracy. Economic development, however, is still a distant dream, and inequities still restrict access to many rights and services.


El Salvador is a democratic republic governed by a president and an 84-member unicameral legislative assembly. The president is elected by universal suffrage and serves for a five-year term by absolute majority vote. A second-round runoff is required in the event that no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first-round vote. Members of the assembly, also elected by universal suffrage, serve for three-year terms. The country has an independent judiciary and supreme court.


The Salvadoran economy continues to benefit from a commitment to free markets and careful fiscal management. The impact of the civil war and subsequent natural disasters on El Salvador’s economy is devastating, and developing the conditions for economic growth remains the country’s greatest challenge. Its traditional agricultural crops are suffering from low prices and productivity. The number of maquilas (assembly plants) is growing and providing some jobs, particularly to women, but wages are low and hours are long. The greatest source of economic assistance is from the estimated 2.5 million Salvadorans who live abroad (primarily in the United States) and send home approximately $2.8 billion annually.

People and Culture

El Salvador’s population numbers about 6.8 million, of which 90 percent is of mixed Indian and Spanish descent. About 1 percent is indigenous; very few Indians have retained their customs and traditions. The country’s people are largely Roman Catholic (although Protestant groups are growing), and Spanish is the language spoken by virtually all inhabitants. The capital city, San Salvador, has about 1.7 million people; an estimated 42 percent of El Salvador’s population lives in rural areas.


The state of the environment in El Salvador poses a critical threat to national health and economic growth. There is virtually no uncontaminated surface water in the country. Agricultural run-off, untreated human wastes, and industrial discharge increasingly pollute groundwater. Native forest exists only in several small, protected areas, and the effects of deforestation contributed greatly to hundreds of landslides that occurred during recent earthquakes. Air and noise pollution are growing concerns, especially in crowded urban areas. El Salvador’s struggling Ministry of Natural Resources is undermanned and inefficient.


We offer a list of Web sites for you to search for additional information about the Peace Corps and El Salvador, or connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that links change. We have tried to make sure all these links are active and current, but we cannot guarantee it..

A note of caution: As you surf these sites, please also remember that you will find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to give opinions and advice based on their own experiences. The opinions expressed are not those of the Peace Corps or the United States government. You may also find opinions of people who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. As you read these comments, we hope you will keep in mind that the Peace Corps is not for everyone, and no two people experience their service in the same way.

General Information About the Countries:

On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in San Salvador to information about converting currency from the dollar to the colon. Just click on El Salvador and go from there.

Visit this site to learn all you need to know about any country in the world.

This is the U.S. State Department’s Web site, which issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find El Salvador and learn more about its social and political history.

This site includes links to all the official sites for governments of countries around the world.

This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information about countries around the world. Each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political backgrounds.

This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.

This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about countries around the world.

Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees:

The MSN group for many RPCVs from El Salvador

The official Friends of El Salvador website. Connect with El Salvador RPCVs, visit the forums and read about projects FoES supports.

This Yahoo site hosts a bulletin board where prospective Volunteers and returned Volunteers can come together.

This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local Volunteer activities. Or skip straight to the Friends of El Salvador site: http://groups.msn.com/friendsofelsalvador/

This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts from countries around the world.

This site is 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 El Salvador:

(Salvadoran Newspapers)

Tim's El Salvador blog is an up-to-date source on what is happening in El Salvador in English

A list of current Peace Corps El Salvador blogs

La Prensa Grafica (In Spanish)

El Diario de Hoy (In Spanish)

El Faro alternative news source (in Spanish)

El Diario Colatino alternative news (in Spanish)

International Development Sites About El Salvador:

  1. U.S. Agency for International Development http://www.usaid.gov/locations/latin_america_caribbean/ country/el_salvador/index.html
  2. Save the Children http://www.savethechildren.org/countries/latin_america_caribbean/el_salvador.asp
  3. CARE http://www.care.org

Recommended Books:

  1. Barry, Tom. El Salvador: A Country Guide. Silver City, N.M.: Interhemispheric Resource Center,1991.
  2. Benítez, Sandra. Bitter Grounds. New York, N.Y.: Picador/St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
  3. Gorkin, Michael, Marta Pineda, and Gloria Leal. From Grandmother to Granddaughter: Salvadoran Women’s Stories. University of California Press, 2000. 4. Paige, Jeffrey M. Coffee and Power: Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in Central America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. 5. Towell, Larry (Introduction by Mark Danner). El Salvador. Italy: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Books About the History of the Peace Corps

  1. Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
  2. Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
  3. Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.

Books on the Volunteer Experience

  1. Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, CA: McSeas Books, 2004.
  2. Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, WA: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
  3. Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, NY: Picador, 2003.
  4. Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, NY: Perennial, 2001.
  5. Kennedy, Geraldine (ed.). From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, CA: Clover Park Press, 1991.
  6. Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).




Your temporary mailing address in El Salvador will be:

“Your Name,” PCV Apartado Postal 1947 Correo Nacional Centro de Gobierno San Salvador, El Salvador

Once you have been assigned to a site and sworn in as a Volunteer, you will be responsible for sending your site address to friends and family.

In general, the mail system between the United States and El Salvador is dependable. Airmail can take anywhere from 10 to 14 days to and from El Salvador; surface mail many times take much longer (2-3 months). Also, the farther you are from a large city, the less dependable the mail. Local mail couriers, such as Urgente Express or DHL, can be used to to send/ receive mail a bit faster, however their service fees are much higher than those of the national post office.

We recommend that you establish a regular for communicating since friends and relatives in the United States may become concerned if they do not hear from you for an extended period of time. However, we have found that after Volunteers have sworn in and moved to their sites, communication habits change as they become more involved in projects and the newness of their lifestyle wears off. A delay in the mail may also be the result of Volunteers being in a more isolated site.

We do not recommend sending money, packages, or airline tickets to Volunteers through the mail. It is usually not worth the effort to get packages from home. Customs duties may exceed the value of the items sent, and the time invested often means an entire day’s travel to the city or airport.

Should it become necessary to have an item sent to you in El Salvador, we recommend that the items be limited to those that can fit in a padded envelope. Padded envelopes are usually not opened by customs officials and are taxed less than other types of packages. The express shipping company DHL International has an office in San Salvador. Packages may be sent to you in care of the Peace Corps office in El Salvador using this service. DHL can be costly and usually requires a phone number and street address. (Packages sent via an express carrier cannot be delivered to a post office box).

The street address of the Peace Corps Office is:

Cuerpo de Paz/El Salvador Calle Las Dalias #3 Colonia San Francisco San Salvador, El Salvador America Central

The phone number for the Peace Corps Office in El Salvador is: 011.503.2208.2911

Airline tickets can be prepaid with the airline and someone in the United States can inform you of the reference number so you can pick up the ticket in San Salvador. Many Volunteers prefer to receive tickets via the e-ticket option.


The international phone service to and from El Salvador is very good. AT&T, Sprint, and MCI have direct dial lines from El Salvador to the United States however their service is much more expensive than local long distance companies. Because the national telecommunication system has been privatized, many local telephone companies offer very low rates when calling to the United States. Calls within the country may be made from the primary local phone company, TELECOM, from public telephones, or on cellular telephones. Even very rural communities tend to have access to cellular telephone service. A large percentage of the Volunteers purchase cellular phones for their personal use. However, there are some rural health and sanitation and agroforestry and environmental education Volunteers who live in areas that still do not have access to phones. If you have a cellular telephone from the U.S., and it has a SIM chip, you may be able to use it here in El Salvador.

Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access

E-mail and Internet access are more common and widespread and frequently used by Volunteers, although travel may be required to find Internet cafes. Still, every department has Internet facilities, so access to Internet is never more than two hours away and often times closer. Some Volunteers have their laptops here and appreciate having brought them. This mostly depends on your personal interest, as it is seldom a necessity for your eventual work here.

Housing and Site Location

Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites until after they have completed their pre-service training. This gives the Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their ministry counterparts. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, or living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process, and the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you might ideally like to be. Most Volunteers will live in small towns or in rural villages but will usually be within 1 hour from the nearest Volunteer. Some sites will require a 6- to 10-hour bus ride from the capital.

Living Allowance and Money Management

Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the Salvadoran people in their community. They are given a moving-in allowance at the time of swearing-in and receive a monthly stipend as Volunteers. The “living allowance” is to be used to cover daily expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for travel to other countries. Credit or debit cards are recommended for this. Traveler’s checks can be used, but there is usually a small charge for cashing them at the banks, and many businesses will not accept them. Cash is not recommended because of the potential of theft. Credit/debit cards and traveler’s checks may be left in the safe at the Peace Corps training center office in San Vicente. As a trainee, the training center will help you open a bank account at a local bank, where you will receive your trainee and Volunteer allowances and where you can deposit any cash or traveler’s checks that you might bring.

Many Salvadoran businesses, especially in the capital and resort areas, take credit cards, including VISA and MasterCard. Other major credit cards are accepted in the major cities, but not as frequently. The U.S. dollar is the official currency so there is no issue of currency exchange.

You may find it advantageous to retain a U.S. checking account, particularly if you can convince your bank to waive service charges during your Peace Corps service.

Food and Diet

Food Availability: Food availability depends on the season and the size of the community and region you live in. Do not arrive in-country expecting to eat the food you ate at home. Come with an open mind about a new diet.

Fruits and Vegetables: Many local varieties of fruits and vegetables are available, and generally of good quality, but it is virtually impossible to wash away all dirt and microorganisms from vegetables with many minute cracks and crevices, such as lettuce, celery, and cauliflower. In markets, these foods are exposed to a variety of flies and other germ-bearing insects, and are handled by numerous individuals unfamiliar with basic hygiene. In addition, vegetables are frequently freshened by sprinkling with water that may be polluted. With this in mind, it becomes obvious that attention must be given to the selection and treatment of these foods prior to ingestion.

All fruits and vegetables that will not be peeled or cooked should be washed in soap and water (any dish detergent will do), rinsed in clean water, and soaked 20 minutes in a bleach-and-water solution. This method will eliminate many of the bacteria, but it is still less than 100 percent effective in destroying ameba cysts.

Meat and Poultry: Many kinds of meat and poultry are available in the local market. Unlike similar products in the United States, they are not properly inspected, aged, or refrigerated. To avoid the risk of infection, meat and poultry must be thoroughly cooked.

Seafood: Seafood, particularly shellfish, carries germs and parasites if grown in contaminated waters. Diseases that can be transmitted by shellfish include typhoid fever, infectious hepatitis, and some types of dysentery. Eat only cooked fish and shellfish. Never eat raw fish or shellfish.

Dairy Products: Locally obtained “raw” milk should be boiled. Store-bought packaged milk and other milk products (e.g., butter, cheese, or ice cream) if pasteurized, are safe to consume. Unpasteurized dairy products provide a favorable culture media for many infectious organisms. All unpasteurized milk should be brought to a rolling boil before drinking.

Food Storage: Heat and humidity cause foods to spoil rapidly. Prepare only what you will eat at one meal. Eliminate leftovers, particularly custards and puddings. Diarrhea is many times caused by spoiled foods.

All foods should obviously be obtained as fresh as possible. It is best to store most foods in the refrigerator, covered in glass or plastic containers. Do not allow cooked food to stand around the kitchen uncovered. Handle food as little as possible.

Beverages: All water must be considered unsafe for drinking and making ice-cubes and should be boiled for at least one minute. Boiled water should be stored in clean glass containers, which are washed and rinsed frequently. Purified bottled water can be purchased only in the larger cities.

Filters remove some of the larger microorganisms and microscopic material, providing aesthetically acceptable water. However, unless the filters are frequently removed, thoroughly washed with a brush, and boiled for 10 minutes, they act as a source of contamination. If filtering is used in conjunction with boiling, the safest procedure is to filter first and follow with boiling. Chlorine also may be used after filtering.

Volunteers contemplating local travel should carry their own purified water or obtain iodine water purification tablets from the health unit.

A variety of carbonated soft drinks are available in El Salvador. These drinks are generally safe because the carbonation process creates an environment unfavorable for the growth of bacteria. Coconut water is enjoyable to some and quite safe to drink. Hot coffee and tea are safe to drink, since the water has been boiled.

Stronger drinks served with ice should be avoided. Alcohol will not disinfect dirty ice. Moreover, many health authorities feel that alcohol is tolerated less well in the tropics than in colder climates. Excessive and daily use can cause salt loss and dehydration, make you more susceptible to dysentery, and reduce your tolerance to stress, heat, and physical activity. As is well-known, excessive alcohol intake can be extremely damaging to your mental and physical health.


Operation of privately owned vehicles is prohibited by Volunteers. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses to mini-buses to trucks to a lot of walking. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a sponsor’s vehicle, but this is only with prior written permission of the country director. Should this occur, the Volunteer may obtain a local driver’s license. Your U.S. driver’s license will facilitate the process and will be needed to open your bank account, so please bring it with you. Volunteers in El Salvador do not need to get an international driver’s license.

Geography and Climate

El Salvador is a relatively small country. Covering 8,260 square miles, it is about the size of Massachusetts. The capital city is San Salvador. Mountains separate the country into three distinct regions: the southern coastal belt, the central valleys and plateaus, and the northern mountains. The climate is semi-tropical, with temperatures ranging from 60 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is tropical on the coast and temperate in the highlands. There is a distinct wet season from May through October. November through April is considered the dry season.

Social Activities

The Salvadoran culture is quite warm and hospitable, and most Volunteers find that establishing relationships and participating in local activities is very rewarding. For additional pertinent information on social activities, refer to the section on letters from El Salvador Volunteers.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

The dress standards required of trainees at registration, during training, and of Volunteers in the field reflect what the Peace Corps staff (both U.S. and Salvadoran alike) believes to be culturally acceptable for El Salvador. These standards indicate appropriate dress on the job and in the capital.

Sport sandals or flip-flops, regardless of their cost, are not appropriate for men or women in professional settings. Shoes must be worn at all times. Body piercings, with the exception of earrings on women, should be removed or hidden. Shorts are not appropriate outside the home for most areas, especially around the training center. Camouflage or khaki army equipment, uniforms, and duffel bags should be avoided.

Men should keep hair beards short and neatly trimmed. Pony tails on men are unacceptable and facial hair should be neatly groomed. Shirts with collars are preferable to T-shirts. Women are strongly advised to wear bras at all times outside of the home. All trainees and Volunteers are advised to cover preexisting tattoos whenever possible, as tattoos in El Salvador are commonly associated with gang-related activities.

For some projects, there is a need for more casual and durable clothes appropriate to fieldwork, such as boots, jeans, and work shirts. However, these clothes must be clean and mended, with no patches. The best advice is to follow the lead of the Salvadorans.

In general, casual skirts, dresses and dress pants are acceptable attire for women. Lightweight pants are appropriate for some work and social occasions. Jeans (not torn) are commonly worn by men and women for social occasions and for some fieldwork situations. Trainees should pack at least two “professional” outfits for special occasions.

It is important to remember that your personal tastes and characteristics should be a deciding factor in what to bring. It is not necessary to change your entire wardrobe. You should base your decision on what to bring on your present wardrobe, the type of work you will be doing, and the few suggestions we are passing on to you.

Personal Safety

More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be over-emphasized. 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 many Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal safety problems. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in El Salvador. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being. Anything short of total commitment to Peace Corps’ safety and security guidance may result in administrative separation, or worse, serious physical danger to the Volunteer.

Rewards and Frustrations

Although the potential for job satisfaction is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Due to financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support promised, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and many people are hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys that occur while you adapt to a new culture and environment.

You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will ever experience. Often you will find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your counterparts with little guidance from supervisors. You may work for months without seeing any visible impact and without receiving feedback on your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress is often seen only after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.

To approach and overcome these difficulties, you will need commitment, maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. Service in Peace Corps/El Salvador is not an extension of “year-abroad” study. However, Salvadorans are hospitable, friendly, and warm people. The Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during challenging times as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave El Salvador feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.


Overview of Pre-Service Training

Training is an essential part of your Peace Corps service. Our goal is to give you enough skills and information to allow you to live and work effectively in El Salvador. In doing that, we plan to build upon the experiences and expertise you bring with you to the Peace Corps. We anticipate that you will approach your training with an open mind, a desire to learn, and a willingness to become involved. Peace Corps trainees officially become Peace Corps Volunteers after successful completion of training.

The 10-week training provides you the opportunity to learn new skills and practice them as they apply to El Salvador. You will receive training and orientation in components of language, cross-cultural communication, area studies, development issues, health and personal safety, and technical skills pertinent to your assignment. The skills you learn will serve as a foundation upon which you will build your experience and work together as a group. And you will have the chance to experience local culture and customs on your own during your stay with a host family and on various site visits.

During the first few days in-country, you will participate in an arrival orientation at the training center in San Vicente. After this initial period, you will move in with your host family in a community in or around San Vicente. You will live with one host family for the duration of your pre-service training.

The host family experience will help you bring some of the topics covered in training to life, and it will give you a chance to practice your new language skills and directly observe and participate in Salvadoran culture. You will be expected to take part in the meals and daily activities of your host family. If you invest yourself in this experience, it will prove to be a rich and positive one. You will be assisted and guided in your cultural adaptation and skills acquisition by members of the training staff. All staff members will work with you—individually as well as in groups—to help you adapt to the new culture and prepare yourself for your eventual assignment.

Technical Training

Technical training prepares you to work in El Salvador by building on the skills you already have and by helping you to develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff, El Salvador 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 general environmental, economic and political situations in El Salvador and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Salvadoran agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them.

You will be supported and evaluated by the training staff throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you will need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community.

Language Training

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 and will help you integrate into your host community and 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 in order to complete training and become a Volunteer. Experienced Salvadoran language and cultural facilitators (LCFs) teach formal, participatory language classes five days a week in small classes of four to five people. Spanish terminology is also introduced in the health, culture, safety and technical components of training.

Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. You will have classroom time and will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family to learn the language. Our goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills more thoroughly once you are at your site. Prior to swearing in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.

Cross-Cultural Training

As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Salvadoran host family. This experience is designed to ease your transition into life at your site. Families have gone through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of the pre-service training program and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in El Salvador. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.

Cross-cultural and community development will be covered to help improve your skills of perception, communication and facilitation. Topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, and traditional and political structures are also addressed.

Health Training

During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You are expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. As a trainee, you are required to attend all medical sessions. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that Volunteers may encounter while in El Salvador. Sexual health and harassment, nutrition, mental health, and safety issues are also covered.

Safety Training

During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces risk in your home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.

Additional Training During Volunteer Service

In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides trainees and Volunteers with continuous 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:

The number, length, and design of these trainings will be 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.


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. As a rule of thumb, good healthcare comes from good health maintenance. The Peace Corps in El Salvador maintains a full-time medical officer who takes care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in El Salvador at local, American-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported to either a medical facility in the region or to the United States.

Health Issues in El Salvador

Major health problems among Peace Corps Volunteers in El Salvador are rare and are often the result of a Volunteer not taking preventive measures to stay healthy. The most common health problems are mostly minor ones that are also found in the United States, such as colds, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, constipation, sinus infections, skin infections, headaches, ear infections, dental problems, minor injuries, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), adjustment disorders, emotional problems, and alcohol abuse. These problems may be more frequent or compounded by life in El Salvador, because certain environmental factors here raise the risk and/or exacerbate the severity of illness and injuries.

The most common major health concerns in El Salvador are malaria, rabies, tuberculosis, dengue fever, typhoid, intestinal parasites, upper respiratory infections, hepatitis, and HIV/ AIDS. Because malaria is endemic in El Salvador, anti-malarial medication (aralen)is required. You will also be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies, tuberculosis, and diptheria. Many of these health concerns can be easily avoided by using common sense and following basic preventive practices.

Helping You Stay Healthy

The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information you need to stay healthy; however, you must accept responsibility for the appropriate use of the information and medication provided. Upon your arrival in El Salvador, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training, you will receive a first-aid kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs.

During training, you will have access to basic first aid supplies through the Peace Corps medical officer. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use since they may not be available here and it may take several months for new shipments to arrive.

You will have physical examinations at mid-service and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in El Salvador will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in El Salvador, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.

Maintaining Your Health

As Peace Corps Volunteers, you must accept a certain amount of responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions, if taken, will significantly reduce your risk of contracting serious illness and sustaining serious injury. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention …” becomes extremely important in areas where medical diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to standards of the United States.

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

The most important of your responsibilities include:

Adherence to recommended standards for food and water preparation. Many diseases that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These diseases include food poisoning, amebiasis, giardiasis, hepatitis A, dysentery, worms, tapeworms, cholera, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation for El Salvador during pre-service training.

Strict adherence to recommended drug regimen for the prevention of malaria. Malaria is endemic in most areas of the Peace Corps world. For all Volunteers serving in malaria endemic areas, or for those traveling in malaria endemic areas, it is extremely important to fully comply with the recommended drug regimen to prevent malaria. Malaria can be rapidly fatal in people who have no natural immunity to the disease. Peace Corps Volunteers who do not fully comply with the required preventive regimen may be administratively separated. Your medical officer will discuss specific recommendations for the prevention of malaria in your area.

Prompt reporting to the medical office of any possible exposure to rabies. Rabies is present in nearly all Peace Corps countries. Any possible exposure to a rabid animal must be reported immediately to the medical office. Rabies exposure can occur through animal bites, scratches from animals’ teeth, and contact with animal saliva. Your medial officer will take into consideration many factors to decide the appropriate course of therapy necessary to prevent rabies. Rabies, if contracted, is 100 percent fatal. All necessary rabies immunizations will be given by the Peace Corps medical office and only the Peace Corps medical office.

Use of an effective means of birth control. Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the Peace Corps medical office.

Use of condoms to protect against the spread of STDs and AIDS. Volunteers must use condoms in every sexual encounter where bodily fluids may be transferred, or they risk contracting deadly disease. Condoms will be provided by the medical officer.

Abstinence is the only certain choice for prevention of HIV/ AIDS and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen the 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.

It is important to emphasize that while AIDS in the United States has occurred primarily (though not exclusively) in high-risk groups, in parts of the developing world, the disease affects men and women equally, regardless of sexual preference. AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease and concerns all sexually active individuals, both homosexual and heterosexual. The keys to reducing the risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS are knowledge and prevention. All Volunteers must be aware of the following basic facts:

Your Peace Corps medical officer will provide you with more specific information in-country and will keep you informed of measures you can take to reduce your risk of exposure, including:

Women’s Health Information

Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.

Pregnancy is a health condition that is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions requiring medical attention, but may also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps medical and programmatic standards for continued service can be met. The majority of Volunteers who become pregnant are medically separated.

Feminine hygiene products are not provided to you by the Peace Corps medical officer in El Salvador. These products can be purchased in El Salvador, but they are expensive. Some Volunteers opt to bring a supply with them to El Salvador.

Your Peace Corps Medical Kit

The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a first-aid kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that might occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at your Peace Corps medical office.

Medical Kit Contents

Ace bandage
Adhesive tape
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B ointment
Butterfly closures
Calamine lotion
Cepacol lozenges
Dental floss
Diphenhydramine HCL (Benadryl): 25 mg tablets
Insect repellant stick (Cutter’s)
Iodine tablets (Water purification tablets)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts and Gatorade
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudephedrine HCL (Sudafed): 30 mg tablets
Red Cross First Aid and Personal Safety Handbook
Robitussin-DM lozenges (Cough calmers)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eye drops (Visine)
Tinactin cream (Tolnaftate)

Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist

If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since the time you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must 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 taking duplicate vaccinations, you should 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 shortly after you arrive in El Salvador. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.

Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service.

While awaiting shipment—which can take several months— you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or non-prescribed medications, such as St. John’s Wort, glucosamine, Selenium, or anti-oxidant supplements.

You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, although it might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about your on-hand three-month supply of prescription drugs.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two 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. To reduce the risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease, we discourage you from using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless their use has been recommended by an ophthalmologist for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.

If you are eligible for Medicare, 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 as 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 and/or pre-existing conditions might prevent you from re-enrolling in your current plan when you return home.

Safety and Security—Our Partnership

Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.

The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information.

The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.

Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk

There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control.

Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).

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:

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 El Salvador as compared to all other Inter-America and Pacific 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.

What If You Become a Victim of a Violent Hate Crime?

Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.

Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.

If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.

In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at [email protected]

Security Issues in El Salvador

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 El Salvador. You can reduce your risk of becoming a target for crime by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking advance precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities, where people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions, especially in large towns, are the favorite work sites for pickpockets.

Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime

You must be prepared to take on a large 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 El Salvador, do what you would do if you moved to a large 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 El Salvador may require that you accept some restrictions to your current lifestyle.

Volunteers attract a lot of attention in large cities and their sites, they but receive far more negative attention in highly populated centers where they are anonymous. In smaller towns, “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to such negative and unwanted attention. Other methods have helped Volunteers avoid becoming targets of unwanted attention and crime. Keep your money out of sight—use an undergarment money pouch, such as the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. You should always walk at night with a companion.

Physical and Sexual Assault

In El Salvador, Volunteers may be impacted by incidents of theft due to the current economic situation and impacts of the post-conflict era. As a Volunteer, you have to be willing to forego certain freedoms that you may take for granted; freedoms like going to a deserted beach or forest, going out alone at night, or walking alone on some roads. You must take precautions that you may not be accustomed to taking in your hometown or city. And even if you take those precautions, you may be a victim simply because somebody wants something and they think they can get it from you—items such as money, electronics, jewelry, a bicycle, camera, appliance, or clothes.

People react differently to the threat of crime. The challenge of each Volunteer is to identify what threats are real and then to develop strategies to minimize the risks so that they can concentrate on the work that they came to do. The Peace Corps will help you understand the risks and how to live safely, but personal safety is the responsibility of each individual. Building your own safety net and habits is an important part of integrating into any culture. Choosing the right friends, dressing appropriately, concealing valuable items, living in a safe neighborhood where you interact with your neighbors, staying away from isolated places, using safe transportation at night, and locking your doors are all precautions that you must take to enhance your personal safety as a Volunteer.

It is possible that during your Peace Corps service you may become a victim of physical or sexual assault. It happens in the Peace Corps world, as it does in the United States. More than 40 years of Peace Corps experience worldwide indicates that, just as in the United States, you can help avoid or reduce some of the risk by being sensitive to your surroundings, culture, and environment; by modifying some habits or behavior; and by using common sense. You will receive a thorough briefing on how to minimize risk in El Salvador. Should you become a victim of violence, the medical office is there to help you, and the medical unit will keep your information confidential. Should you become a victim of assault or other violence, it is imperative that you inform the Peace Corps medical office and receive appropriate care, including care for your emotional well-being.

Crime is a problem throughout the world, and it is a concern in El Salvador. Peace Corps/El Salvador has also taken steps to help Volunteers lessen their risk of being victims of crime and has put in place safety criteria for site placement and housing, made programming changes, and continuously improved safety and security training during pre-service training and throughout the two-year period of Volunteer service. Peace Corps/El Salvador has also increased Volunteer preparedness as Volunteers pass their awareness, knowledge, and history on to succeeding groups of Volunteers.

Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer

Support in El Salvador

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. El Salvador’s in-country safety program is outlined below.

Information sharing can take many forms, but essentially this means that the Peace Corps/El Salvador office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety. Regular updates will be offered in Volunteer newsletters and in memoranda from the country director. Similarly, Peace Corps/El Salvador also asks that Volunteers keep the staff informed of any changes or developments in the safety and security climate of their site or region. 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 El Salvador. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and to 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. Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for the Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective role in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure assignment to an appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work site. Site selection criteria are based, in part, on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; different housing options and living arrangements; and other support needs.

You will also learn about the country’s detailed emergency action plan, which exists in case 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 El Salvador will gather at predetermined locations until the situation resolves itself or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.

Finally, in order to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps medical officer. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner. In addition to responding to the needs of the Volunteer, the Peace Corps collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.


In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcome among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race, and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other, despite our many differences. Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal.

In other ways, however, our diversity poses challenges. In El Salvador, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics considered familiar and commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed.

Outside of El Salvador’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. Typical cultural beliefs held may be as narrow as the perception that all Americans are rich and have blonde hair and blue eyes. The people of El Salvador are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to differences that you present. We will ask you to be supportive of one another.

In order to ease the transition and adapt to life in El Salvador, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises with who you are as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions will need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limits. 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 El Salvador

Peace Corps staff in El Salvador 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 cultures, backgrounds, religions, ethnic groups, and ages and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who will take pride in supporting each other and demonstrating the richness of American culture.

What Might A Volunteer Face?

Possible issues for Female Volunteers

Machismo is pervasive throughout El Salvador. Strict gender roles exist, particularly in rural areas. Women frequently receive catcalls, especially in areas where they are not known. The more you are established in your site and known to your community, the less likely you will be hassled.

Traditional roles in rural areas often limit women from doing physical work other than carrying firewood, water, or supplies from the market. Generally, women in El Salvador have attended less formal schooling than men so it is difficult for them to be taken seriously on technical issues. Additionally, Salvadoran women are usually not comfortable in expressing their opinions openly. Decisions are traditionally made by men. Gender roles for outsiders are somewhat less strict, although female Volunteers may find that expressions of independence that may be the norm in the United States are not culturally appropriate in El Salvador.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color

As a Volunteer of color, you may be the only non-white Volunteer within a project or training group. As such, it is quite possible that you may be working and living among people with little or no experience or understanding of your culture. You may not receive the level of personal support from other Volunteers that you would like. Likewise, it may be a challenge to find diverse role models among the Peace Corps staff.

In El Salvador, African-American Volunteers may be referred to as negro or other titles considered derogatory in American culture. Negro is the word for black in Spanish and may not be intended as derogatory in El Salvador. Based upon false cultural stereotypes, you may be evaluated as less professionally competent than white Volunteers.

Salvadorans may expect Latin-American Volunteers to automatically assume different role patterns than white Volunteers or to interact socially with more ease. Likewise, Volunteers with Latino surnames may be expected to speak Spanish fluently; language testers may expect Latin-American Volunteers to perform more proficiently on Spanish tests. Latin-American Volunteers may not be considered or perceived as being North American.

Salvadorans may project stereotyped behavior observed in films on Asian-American Volunteers (the “Kung Fu Syndrome”). In El Salvador, Asian Americans are often identified by their cultural heritage, not by their American citizenship. Asians are collectively labeled as chinos regardless of their particular ethnic background. Current or historical host-country involvement with Asian countries, or the presence of Asian merchants in the community, may have an impact on how Asian-American Volunteers are perceived. Asian Americans may not be accepted as North American.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers

Senior Volunteers are advised to designate a power of attorney to manage all financial matters during service prior to leaving for El Salvador. It is important that senior Volunteers be aware of possible issues of inclusion and acceptance among Volunteer peers. Others in the Peace Corps community may have little understanding of or respect for the lives and experiences of senior Americans. Seniors may not share social or recreational interests and may not receive the personal support they desire from younger Volunteers. As a result, senior Volunteers may not feel comfortable sharing personal, sexual, or health concerns. On the other hand, they may find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support. Some senior Volunteers find this a very enjoyable part of their experience, while others choose not to fill this role. Because of the cultural standards, senior Volunteers may command more respect from Salvadorans than younger Volunteers.

Senior Volunteers may need to be assertive in developing an effective individual approach to language learning. Also, where great variety in site placement exists, Peace Corps staff and senior Volunteers need to collaborate to identify those sites most appropriate for single or married older Volunteers.

Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers

Homosexuality is considered immoral according to local norms in El Salvador. AIDS (SIDA in Spanish) is a critical issue in many countries. Volunteers need to be aware that there has been a backlash against gay American men for supposedly bringing the disease to Latin America. Styles for hair, earrings on men, certain mannerisms, and clothes that are acceptable in the United States may be highly suspect in some communities. In El Salvador, some civil liberties are often nonexistent or ignored; homosexuals may be hassled in bars on in the streets.

Some Volunteers find the Peace Corps to be a “coming out” experience, while others find it a “going back into the closet” one. Volunteers generally choose not to be “out” in their communities, but may be “out” to certain individuals with whom they have built trusting relationships. You may serve for two years without meeting another gay Volunteer. Straight Volunteers and staff may not be able to give needed support. Like most Volunteers, you may have difficulties with the machismo in El Salvador. Lesbian and bisexual women should be prepared to field questions regarding boyfriends, marriage, and sex. Likewise, gay and bisexual men will be asked about girlfriends, and may find themselves in situations where men brag about female conquests, objectify women, and catcall. It is a good idea to start formulating personal strategies to deal with these potentially awkward moments.


How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to El Salvador?

Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limitations, and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limitations. The authorized baggage allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight allowance of 70 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. Any sharp objects including pocketknives, scissors or even tweezers should be packed in checked luggage. Security requirements for luggage may change. Please check with the Federal Aviation Administration http://www.faa.gov for updates on luggage security.

What is the electric current in El Salvador?

The electric voltage is 110v, the same as in the United States.

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 or debit cards are preferable to cash. Traveler’s checks can be difficult to change and banks will generally charge a fee for cashing them. If you choose to bring extra money, plan on bringing the amount that suits your own personal travel plans and needs.

When can I take vacation and have people visit me?

Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding 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 3 months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa or travel assistance.

Will my belongings be covered by insurance?

The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. However, such insurance can be purchased before you leave. Ultimately, Volunteers are responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application will be given to you, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Additional information about insurance should be obtained by calling the company directly.

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 El Salvador do not need to get an international driver’s license. Operation of privately owned vehicles is prohibited. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses, to mini-buses, to trucks, to a lot of walking. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a sponsor’s vehicle. But this is only with prior written permission of the country director. Should this occur, the Volunteer may obtain a local driver’s license. Your U.S. driver’s license will facilitate the process, so bring it with you just in case.

What should I bring as gifts for El Salvador friends and my host family?

This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include: knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.

Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?

Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites until after they have completed their pre-service training. This gives the Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their ministry counterparts. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, or living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you might ideally like to be. Most Volunteers will live in small towns or in rural villages, but will usually be within 1 hour from the nearest Volunteer. Some sites will require a 6 to 10 hour drive from the capital. There will be at least one Volunteer based in each of the regional capitals, and Volunteers may work in the capital city.

How can my family contact me in an emergency?

The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574.

For non-emergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580.

Can I call home from El Salvador?

The international phone service to and from El Salvador has improved tremendously in the last few years. AT&T, Sprint, and MCI can be accessed, but most Volunteers are opting for phone cards from local companies to call the United States.

Should I bring a cellular phone with me?

It is best to wait and see if there is coverage in your site and then decide if you want to buy a cellular phone here. There are several companies, the phones are relatively cheap, and almost all Volunteers have bought them here. If you already have a cellphone, you might bring it with you. Many phones with a removeable SIM chip can be “reprogrammed” by buying a local company’s cellphone SIM chip and inserting it into the phone.

Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?

E-mail and Internet access are becoming more common and widespread and frequently used by the Volunteers, although they may need to travel a bit to access. Every department has Internet facilities so e-mail is never more than two hours away and most often closer. Some Volunteers have their laptops here and appreciate having brought them. This mostly depends on your personal interest, as it is seldom a necessity for your eventual work here. Volunteers who bring computers save travel time by doing non-internet computer tasks at home.


This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in El Salvador 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 can always have things sent to you later. 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 restriction on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in El Salvador.

General Clothing

Individual tastes influence your decision of what will be useful and/or is not necessary. Site and work assignments vary as well as Salvadoran climate zones. This list should be used as a guide and gives only “suggested” things to bring. Salvadorans emphasize cleanliness and neatness and you may be judged by your appearance, whether you intend to or not. Salvadorans, especially those in rural areas, dress more conservatively than North Americans. It is not necessary to change your entire wardrobe. Most Volunteers wear clothes similar to what they were used to wearing stateside. If in doubt, minimize your clothes to the basics. Additional clothing and shoes are available in El Salvador and you may have well tailored clothes made for you at rock bottom prices. Also keep in mind that shoes sized over 8 for women and 11 for men are difficult to find.

Cotton and darker colored clothing are recommended as they hide dirt better. Since most clothes in the campo (countryside) are washed by hand on hard surfaces and hung to dry on rope or barbed wire; bring clothes that can withstand these rigors. Clothing with elastic, especially underwear, stretches rather quickly due to hand washing.


Note: During rainy periods, leather goods accumulate mildew; so bring leather-protection cream or milk oil.


Note: Nylons and replacement undergarments are available in-country.


Note: Jeans can be very heavy and hot. Lightweight, quick-drying pants are more practical. Shorts are not generally worn in El Salvador and wearing short shorts is certain to attract unwanted attention.


Note: Female Volunteers do wear tank tops; however, select conservative tank tops.

The nature of the rains here makes raingear impractical for some. Volunteers suggest that you buy an umbrella in-country and stay inside until the storm passes.


Needed Items

Note: A Spanish dictionary and study guides are supplied during training.

Useful Items


Most Volunteers are or become avid readers. English language books and magazines are available in the capital, but are expensive and of a limited selection. You may arrange to have books mailed to you. Packages labeled LIBROS usually get through customs. The Volunteer lounge has a book exchange with diverse reading material and always welcomes donations from current and departing Volunteers. The Peace Corps will provide free international Newsweek magazines to all Volunteers. Subscriptions to other magazines may get through, but probably quite late.


Music is the sanity keeper of most Volunteers. Many Volunteers bring radio or MP3 players with them and greatly appreciate the sanctuary personal music provides. We suggest bringing your favorite music from home, either in CD or MP3 form. Batteries are not cheap and you may choose to use solar-powered or electrical rechargers.


Cameras are almost a must item. Film and film developing are available in El Salvador, but are more expensive than in the United States. Nevertheless, some Volunteers will probably choose to develop locally while others will have their photos developed via mailers, in the United States. Most Volunteers bring digital cameras. Digital photos can be developed in-country but also downloaded to the Internet to be shared with family and friends back home.

Note: The climate here may also ruin some of your belongings. For this reason, do not bring things you cannot risk losing either due to theft, loss, moisture, etc. Please do not bring high-priced items with you and most definitely do not have them mailed to you. El Salvador is a poor country. You will appear rich or at least affluent to many Salvadorans. The Peace Corps does not provide paid insurance coverage for your personal effects, although you may purchase insurance for your belongings (this will be discussed at your pre-departure orientation). Ultimately, each Volunteer is responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. The Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for losses.

Work Supplies

You may need a few basic reference books and supplies for your field of work. You may bring books with you, or preferably, wait until you see what resources Peace Corps/ El Salvador may provide. We can also order work-related materials through Peace Corps/Washington. Basic work and art supplies such as scissors, crayons, markers, calculators, etc. may be squeezed into your luggage.

Medicines & Related Items

You will receive a basic medical kit as soon as you arrive in-country. Medical treatment and supplies are available at the training center and Peace Corps office. The Peace Corps also provides contraceptives to Volunteers who request them. We supply a variety of over-the-counter medications as well as any medications prescribed by a Peace Corps physician. It is not necessary to bring a two-year supply. As mentioned, DO bring a three-month supply of any medications you need immediately upon arrival and your prescription. This will allow us time to order your medication. This three-month supply will ensure that you have a continuous supply.


Last-Minute Advice from the Country Director

The general theme is: Do not think you are going to the jungle for two years. Most things can be purchased in-country. Also, lightweight cottons are the best for the warm to hot weather. Remember you are not going on a two-year camping trip.


The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone and the list is not all inclusive of everything you should make arrangements for.




Health Insurance

Personal Papers


Personal Effects

Financial Management

See Also

Peace Corps El Salvador Volunteer Handbook (2003)

See also

External links

Personal tools
Tell Your Friends
Peace Corps News
Country Information