From Peace Corps Wiki
For the official Welcome Book for Honduras see here
PEACE CORPS / HONDURAS HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Honduras
Times have changed since the first lady of Honduras, Doña Alejandra Bermudez de Villeda Morales, accompanied the first training class of Peace Corps Volunteers to Honduras in 1962. Over the past 43 years, more than 5,000 Volunteers have served in Honduras in a wide range of project areas, including health, fisheries, beekeeping, animal husbandry, special education, vocational education, small business, and agriculture. Project areas and numbers of Volunteers have changed in response to the changing needs of the country. Projects such as fisheries, beekeeping, and education were phased out as Honduran people and institutions developed the capacity to continue the work on their own. Other projects, such as municipal development, HIV/AIDS prevention, and business development, have been initiated or have evolved with technological advances, increased globalization of world markets, and other developments.
In response to the crisis caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the number of Volunteers in Honduras increased dramatically. Today an average of 200 Volunteers work in the western, eastern, and southern regions of Honduras. In 2003 Peace Corps/Honduras expanded its program to the north coast of Honduras.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Honduras
The Peace Corps/Honduras program has six primary projects: business, child survival and HIV/AIDS prevention, water and sanitation, protected areas management, youth development, and municipal development. We collaborate with the government of Honduras, Honduran and international nongovernmental organizations, and communities throughout the
country. Our program is very much in concert with the poverty reduction strategy developed by Honduras and the international donor community. This type of integrated community development program makes Peace Corps/Honduras a very traditional post in many ways. Community development and integrated rural development have been around conceptually for at least 40 years and were especially popular from the mid-1960s until about the late 1970s. We all have learned a lot since then about human capital, social capital, dependency and empowerment, and sustainability. We know that development takes a long time, with consistent work in an auspicious setting, which we do our best to provide through excellent site selection. Despite the traditional appearance, Peace Corps/Honduras’ approach to and work in HIV/AIDS prevention, municipal development, business and information technology, protected areas management, and youth development put us very much in the vanguard of Peace Corps programming worldwide. Our objective as community development facilitators is not to teach the people of Honduras “American” values, but to help them help themselves within their own cultural framework.
The health project focuses on HIV/AIDS education and prevention, child survival, and reproductive health. The water and sanitation project provides technical assistance for constructing water supply and waste-management systems, while at the same time empowering communities to manage their water systems and protect their watersheds through the development of water boards and in conjunction with municipal environment committees. The protected areas management project focuses on agroforestry and natural resource management in buffer-zone communities. Business Volunteers apply basic business skills to help organizations and entrepreneurs better utilize local resources to increase income and opportunity. Municipal development Volunteers work with municipal employees and community leaders to improve public services, increase citizen participation, and enhance civic education. Finally, the youth development project builds on existing cross-project efforts, focusing on youth at risk, leadership development, gender equality, and increasing all types of opportunities for Honduran youth.
Peace Corps/Honduras emphasizes cross-project collaboration. Volunteers are likely to find themselves sharing or coordinating projects with Volunteers from other sectors. Additionally, Peace Corps/Honduras has taken a number of initiatives to enrich projects and allow for increased opportunity in community development. These initiatives include gender inclusion and development, environmental education, cross-project youth development, HIV/AIDS prevention, and information and communication technology.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: HONDURAS AT A GLANCE
Human occupation of what is now Honduras began between 9000 and 7000 B.C. These original inhabitants were nomadic hunters. Agriculture in the region began about 6,000 years ago, when people began to gather in villages. The Maya Indians settled in western Honduras around 1000 B.C. and developed an important network of communities centered around the city of Copán. Archaeological remains tell the story of a civilization that grew slowly from 2000 B.C. to 800 A.D., greatly expanded, and then collapsed around 900 A.D. The civilization’s descendants, the Maya Chortí, inhabit the region today.
The European invasion of Honduras began in 1502 with the fourth and last voyage of Christopher Columbus. He arrived on the island of Guanaja, which he called Isla de Pinos (Pine Island). Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Honduras was heavily populated with an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people. However, slavery and diseases (e.g., smallpox) diminished the population to fewer than 20,000 in less than 100 years.
Additional Spanish expeditions to Honduras occurred in 1524 and 1525, including one from Mexico commanded by Hernán Cortés. The occupiers appointed a governor, but the native population of Lenca Indians would not accept colonialism without a war. Lempira, the chief of the Lencas, led 30,000 Indians against the Spaniards on several occasions until 1536.
During peace talks, he was betrayed and assassinated, and Indian resistance was quickly suffocated. The Spanish colonization brought not only new kinds of people—from Spaniards to African slaves—but also new species of plants and animals. The Spaniards introduced cattle and horses to the New World and took tobacco, coffee, maize, potatoes, and cacao to the Old World. In time, gold and silver mining techniques were introduced, large cattle ranches and plantations were developed, and new towns and fields emerged from the forests.
Central America gained its independence from Spain in 1821, and within a short time various factions developed. During this period, Central America was briefly annexed to Mexico, then withdrew to join the newly formed United Provinces of Central America. However, conservative politicians in the Central American government who rejected the plan invaded Honduras in 1826. Francisco Morazán, a liberal, repelled the invasion and took control, but efforts to maintain the union were unsuccessful. In 1838, the countries decided to go their separate ways. Honduras signed a new constitution in 1839. Its first capital was Comayagua. In 1880, President Marco Aurelio Soto moved the capital to Tegucigalpa, in part because his Guatemalan Indian wife was not accepted by the high society of Comayagua. Another factor in the rise of Tegucigalpa was its great mineral wealth of gold and silver.
Since independence, Honduras has suffered nearly 300 internal rebellions, civil wars, coups d’état, and changes of government, more than half of which took place during the 20th century. The country has also been the target of foreign intervention, the most famous being that of U.S. soldier William Walker, who appointed himself president of Nicaragua in 1860 and aimed to take over the rest of Central America. His campaign ended in failure, and he was executed in Trujillo.
As a result of its infamous banana companies and “banana wars,” Honduras was known as the Banana Republic. When banana production dominated the economy, these companies had great influence in local politics. In 1913, for example, the Standard Fruit Company and the Cuyamel Fruit Company owned 75 percent of the nation’s banana plantations and nearly 100 percent of its politicians. While the banana companies built railroads and seaports, little of their wealth remained in Honduras.
Honduras’ governmental structure is very similar to that of the United States. The Constitution of 1982 provides for a strong executive branch, a unicameral National Congress elected by popular vote, a judiciary branch appointed by the National Congress, and a president elected to a four-year term by popular vote. Since 1980, the country has had seven general elections. In November 2001, Ricardo Maduro of the National Party was elected as president; he will hold the office until January 2006. The 128 members of the National Congress also are also elected for four-year terms. Congressional seats are assigned to a party’s candidates in proportion to the number of votes received by each party. Honduras is divided into departments (states), each with its own cabecera departamental (capital). Municipal authorities are also elected for four years during general elections.
The judicial branch includes a Supreme Court of Justice, courts of appeal, and several courts of original jurisdiction, such as labor and criminal courts. The executive branch consists of 14 cabinet-level ministries: Government and Justice, Foreign Relations, Defense, Economy, Finance, National Agrarian Institute, Education, Health, Labor, Communications and Public Works, Natural Resources, Culture and Tourism, Superior Council of Economic Planning, and the Presidency. Economy Agriculture and forestry are the bases of the economy, providing 60 percent of all jobs and two-thirds of the nation’s exports. The major products for export are timber, bananas, meat, and coffee. Their production usually involves foreign capital and is highly developed. While campesinos (peasant farmers) constitute the social majority, their contribution to the gross national product (GNP) is minor because they still rely on traditional agricultural practices, including slash-andburn cultivation and the use of wooden plows. Coffee and bananas contribute more than 50 percent of the country’s export revenues. In addition, nontraditional exports such as shrimp and lobster have begun to impact the economy. Maquiladoras, or factories, that assemble imported items for re-export were introduced in 1990 to take advantage of the country’s low wages (which range from $2.25 to $3.19 per day in the nonexport agricultural sector to as much as $4.08 per day in the export sector) The Honduran maquiladoras have earned a negative reputation in the United States because of adverse publicity about their use of child labor. In most maqiladoras, the workers are young women, often single mothers who support their families with low but sufficient wages. It is estimated that 80 percent of men ages 18 to 25 are unemployed.
In the 1980s, the United States gave aid money to Honduras for the use of its territory in support of the contras’ efforts to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Most of the aid money was spent on supporting the contras rather than on the country’s vast social needs. Through overspending, the Honduran government eventually amassed a huge fiscal deficit, and because of its debt, international banks cut off financing.
Honduras’ economic situation remains uncertain. In 1994, a drought resulted in a shortage of electric power. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated numerous rural and urban areas, many of which have yet to be fully reconstructed. While international disaster relief funds helped Honduras during this crisis, they made little impact in the fight against poverty. Most of these funding sources were exhausted in 2002.
People and Culture
The majority of the population is a mixture of indigenous, African, and Spanish heritage sometimes referred to as Ladino. There are minorities of Europeans, Africans, Asians, and Arabs and six main indigenous groups: the Miskito, Pech or Paya, Maya Chortí, Lenca, Jicaque or Tolupan, and Tawahka. Another group in this diverse mix is the Garifuna. In the 1500s, when Europeans brought African slaves to the Caribbean islands, the slaves on two ships that wrecked near St. Vincent escaped. The Africans adopted the language and culture of their hosts, the Carib Indians, and intermarriage resulted in a group known today as the Garifuna or black Caribs. In 1700, Britain took over St. Vincent, and in 1797 the Garifuna were exiled to the island of Roatán; they later spread to Belize and Nicaragua.
Most Hondurans are Roman Catholic, but Protestant congregations do exist in lesser numbers. Although Spanish is the predominant language, some people, especially along the north coast and in the Bay Islands, speak English, and Garifuna is spoken in Garifuna communities.
The country has an estimated population of 6.5 million people and enjoys a relatively low population density, especially compared with neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala. On the other hand, its population distribution and growth patterns are not favorable. The area suitable for settlement is limited, so the bulk of the population is concentrated in the city of Tegucigalpa, the Comayagua and San Pedro Sula valleys, and the north coast, while the eastern quadrant of the country remains one of the most inaccessible and least inhabited areas of Central America. The rate of annual population growth was estimated at 2.34 percent in 2002. Rapid population growth is placing increasing strains on the government’s capacity to keep pace in providing health, economic, educational, and other services to the Honduran people.
With a land area of 44,997 square miles (112,492 square kilometers), Honduras is the second largest country in Central America. The climate is characterized by a wet season from June to November and a dry season from December to May. Climactic variations are more pronounced in the coastal lowlands, particularly in the north, where major hurricanes and severe floods and droughts have occurred in recent years. Temperate conditions prevail in the higher elevations.
The country consists of mountains, mangrove and other forests, beaches, and coral reefs. It has more than 500 miles of exceptional coastline. Two-thirds of the terrain is mountainous, with agriculture and small cities tucked away in valleys. The average altitude is 1,000 feet above sea level, with the highest peak, in Celaque National Park, reaching 9,275 feet.
Honduras also possesses an underwater paradise of coral reefs on the Caribbean coast, the longest in the Northern Hemisphere, which is easily accessible from the Bay Islands. About 45 percent of the land is covered with forests. Among the tree species are palm, pine, mahogany, Spanish cedar, balsa, and rosewood. Honduras is home to several distinct ecosystems, including lowland rain forests and highland cloud forests in the interior, tropical rain forests on the Atlantic coast, and dry forests on the Pacific coast.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Honduras and to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure that all links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it. If you do not have access to the Internet, visit your local library. Libraries may 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 Honduras
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Tegucigalpa to how to convert from the dollar to the lempira. Just click on Honduras and go from there.
Visit this site for general travel advice about almost any country in the world.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Honduras 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 UN.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about 228 countries.
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 known as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web Ring. Browse the Web Ring and see what former Volunteers are saying about their service.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts of their Peace Corps service.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Honduras
A Honduran Web portal with a variety of resources
Online version of Honduras This Week, an English-language weekly newspaper
General information about Honduras (in Spanish)
- Acker, Alison. Honduras: The Making of a Banana Republic. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 1989.
- Alvarado, Elvia. Don’t Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks From the Heart (The Story of Elvia Alvarado). New York: HarperCollins, 1989.
- Amaya Amador, Ramón. Prisión Verde (Green Prison). Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Editorial Universitaria, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras, 1987. (In Spanish)
- Berryman, Phillip. Inside Central America: The Essential Facts Past and Present on El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.
- Guzman, Juda. Memories of a Central American. New York: Vantage Press, 1988.
Books About the Peace Corps
- Banerjee, Dillon. So You Want to Join the Peace Corps: What to Know Before You Go. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2000 (paperback).
- Herrera, Susana. Mango Elephants in the Sun: How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York: Harper Perennial, 2001.
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000 (paperback).
- Lucas, C. Payne, and Kevin Lowther. Keeping Kennedy’s Promise: The Peace Corps’ Moment of Truth (2nd ed.). Peace Corps Online, 2002.
- Redmon, Coates. Come as You Are: The Peace Corps Story. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, 1986.
- Thomsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969, 1997 (paperback).
- Tidwell, Mike. The Ponds of Kalambayi: An African Sojourn. Guilford, Conn.: The Lyons Press, 1990, 1996 (paperback).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Letters sent from the United States generally arrive in Honduras in two to three weeks. However, the mail system is not always reliable, and it is not unheard of for a letter to take several months to arrive. Packages can take even more time. You will have to pay a 30-lempira tax (approximately $2) at the post office to retrieve any packages. During pre-service training, mail will be delivered to you at the training site, and your mailing address will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
Voluntario del Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 3158
Once you become a Volunteer, you will be responsible for sending the address for your site to friends and family. We recommend you get a P.O. box (if available at your local post office in your site) if you want to receive correspondence at your site and avoid the cost of coming to the capital city.
You may still receive mail at the above address, but it will not be forwarded to your site; it will be kept in your file at the Peace Corps office until you visit the capital for official business. It will be your responsibility to pick up any packages from the post office.
We strongly recommend that you establish a regular writing pattern with your friends and relatives, since they might become concerned if they do not hear from you for an extended period of time.
We discourage you from having money or other valuable items sent to you through the mail. Electrical appliances cannot be sent through the mail, as they are prohibited items and could be subject to a fine. Letters and packages are sometimes opened by postal workers, and valuable items occasionally disappear. In addition, the process of retrieving a package at the post office can be time-consuming, and customs duties may exceed the value of the items sent. If you must have packages sent, however, we recommend padded envelopes. You will have a bank account at your site, and you can have money wired to that account (but note that the Peace Corps is not allowed to give out your account number). Airline tickets can be paid for in advance and picked up at the airline’s office in Tegucigalpa.
In addition, Federal Express, UPS, and DHL have offices in Tegucigalpa and can deliver packages to the Peace Corps office. Please do not send any electrical device or appliances via FedEx, UPS, or DHL, as a customs clearence process is required which will cost around $90 (plus you will be charged an additional 75 percent of the cost of the device). Please let your family and friends know this before sending any mail. We also encourage you to ask for shipment tracking numbers so you can track packages through the carriers’ websites. Remember that these delivery services cannot deliver to a post office box, so you will have to provide the following street address for the Peace Corps office: Avenida Republica de Chile #401, Colonia Palmira, Tegucigalpa (phone: 504.232.1753).
International phone service to and from Honduras is relatively good. Hondutel, the telephone agency, has offices in many cities and towns, and some of those offices offer direct lines to
U.S. long-distance carriers. You can also call or receive calls from the United States from local phones. To reach you in an emergency, your family can contact the Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C., at 800.424.8580, extension 1470, during business hours or 202.638.2574 after hours and on weekends. The Office of Special Services will contact Peace Corps/Honduras immediately and will help you contact your family.
Some Volunteers have telephones in their homes, but the majority rely upon the services provided by Hondutel. Volunteers may purchase a cellphone in Honduras, but only a few sites are accessible by cellphone, and the cost of service is likely to be beyond the means of your monthly living allowance.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
The Volunteer lounge at the Peace Corps office has four computers with Internet access that Volunteers may use for their work. They cannot use Peace Corps staff computers. Regular access to these computers is not possible during pre-service training because the training site is not near the office. However, there is Internet access for a fee at the training center. There are increasing numbers of Internet cafes in Honduras, especially in major urban centers, and Volunteers are encouraged to use the Internet at cafes in or near their communities.
Please keep in mind when considering whether or not to bring a laptop to Honduras that there is the possibility of theft or water damage. Nevertheless, many Volunteers and staff believe it is beneficial to bring a laptop to augment their personal as well as professional work. Most counterparts and agencies where you may be assigned to work may not have this type of equipment, or it may be very slow and dated. If you choose to bring a laptop or other valuable equipment, you should insure it against theft and damage. You will receive information on personal articles insurance from the Peace Corps prior to departure.
Housing and Site Location
Volunteer housing varies according to the area of the country and its climate. In much of the southern region, houses are open and airy to provide ventilation. Houses tend to be more closed in mountainous areas. Some Volunteers live in houses made of adobe, while others live in houses made of wood or cinder blocks or in apartments. Roofing generally consists of clay tiles or corrugated metal. Most Volunteer houses have electricity and running water, though the source of water is often outside the house and water may flow only sporadically. Housing in rural sites may have outdoor latrines instead of indoor plumbing.
Peace Corps/Honduras will provide Volunteers with one secure housing option upon site assignment where Volunteers must live for at least the first two months. Peace Corps/Honduras may also suggest other housing options that can be explored by Volunteers after the initial two-month period. Volunteers will not be assigned to communities where adequate housing is not available.
The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to use good judgment in deciding where and with whom to live after the initial time period. Volunteers are strongly encouraged to live with a family and to take the necessary time to choose a living situation that considers community norms, language acquisition, and personal safety.
During the site-selection process, project teams will determine the availability of adequate housing. If no options are available, the site will not host a Volunteer. Safe and secure housing is a priority, and Peace Corps/Honduras will help you work with the landlord to make any necessary modifications to improve the safety and security of your home, such as adding deadbolt locks and bars on windows. Additionally, the Peace Corps makes an effort to select sites that offer reasonable and safe transportation. Keep in mind that rural areas of Honduras are more rustic than rural areas of the United States.
Peace Corps Volunteer sites are located throughout Honduras with the exception of the departments of Gracias a Dios and the Bay Islands. The site in which you eventually serve will be selected based upon the local needs of the community, your skills and interests, and the overall goals and objectives of the Peace Corps/Honduras project in which you will work.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer, you will receive a monthly allowance to cover your basic living expenses. The living allowance is reviewed at least once a year through a market survey to ensure that it is adequate for a healthy lifestyle comparable to that of the community in which you live. Funds are deposited in local currency into your local bank account; with the current exchange rate, it is roughly equivalent to $200 a month. You will also receive a housing allowance, which varies according to average housing costs in each region.
The living allowance is intended to cover the cost of food, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, transportation, reading materials, and other incidentals. You may find that you receive more compensation than your community partner or supervisor.
You will accrue two days of leave and earn a $24 vacation allowance for each month of service. The vacation allowance is deposited in an account in U.S. dollars twice a year (April and October). This account can be useful for wiring money to or from a bank account in the United States. You will receive a one-time settling-in allowance, paid in local currency equivalent to $250, to buy basic household items when you move to your site. This amount is also reviewed annually and adjusted as needed. If the Peace Corps asks you to travel to attend conferences or workshops, it will deposit additional funds in your account to cover the cost of transportation, food and lodging.
Most Volunteers find that they can live comfortably in Honduras with these allowances. While many bring additional money with them for out-of-country travel, the Peace Corps expects Volunteers to live at the same level as their neighbors and colleagues and therefore strongly discourages Volunteers from supplementing their income with money brought from home.
Credit cards can be used in the capital and in tourist areas. Traveler’s checks can be cashed for a nominal fee. For safekeeping, trainees can store up to $300 in cash and any traveler’s checks in the Peace Corps safe. Once you become a Volunteer, the Peace Corps asks that you move any cash to your dollar bank account.
Food and Diet
Although a wide variety of food is available in Honduras, beans, rice, plantains, and tortillas are the standard fare (plato tipico) throughout the country. Medium-size and large communities have markets that sell fruits, vegetables, meat products, milk, cheese, and grains (including soy and soy products). Volunteers who live in smaller communities, however, may only be able to purchase basic foods such as noodles, canned goods, and rice and may have to travel to nearby markets every week to purchase perishables.
Vegetarians are able to maintain a healthy diet in Honduras. However, it may be difficult to maintain a strictly vegetarian diet when you live with a family during pre-service training. Families cannot be expected to change their regular diet to meet your needs.
Volunteers in Honduras use public transportation in most situations, even though it can be time-consuming. If you live in a major population center, there will be regular buses from your site to the capital. Smaller communities may have only one bus a day, so you may have to depend on a minivan or truck for transportation. Although in some circumstances it may be necessary to ride in the back of a pickup truck, Volunteers are highly discouraged from traveling this way. Any travel at night is also highly discouraged.
Volunteers are not allowed to drive or ride as a passenger on motorcycles in Honduras. You may drive a vehicle for work-related activities if the counterpart agency requires you to do so, but you must first receive approval from your country director and then obtain a Honduran driver’s license (a valid U.S. driver’s license is required to obtain a Honduran license). In some areas, Volunteers may request a bicycle, horse, or donkey for work transportation, and the Peace Corps will provide the funds for the initial purchase. When riding a bicycle, you are required to wear a helmet, which the Peace Corps will provide. All Volunteers should be prepared to walk regularly, sometimes long distances, to communities within their assignment area. In some cases, because of the distance traveled, Volunteers have to arrange for overnight lodging.
Geography and Climate
For such a small country, Honduras has a wide variety of temperatures—ranging from 60 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the lowlands to 40 to 90 degrees in the mountains. In general, the western region is relatively cool, while the southern and eastern regions are moderate to hot in the valleys and colder in the mountains, especially at night. The tropical coasts and large valleys can be very hot and humid. In most parts of Honduras, the rainy season lasts from June through November. You should come prepared for all types of climates. The training center is located at a high altitude and gets quite cold in the mornings and evenings, so bring some warm clothes.
Most social activities revolve around family or community events and religious holidays. Hondurans are very hospitable and often invite Volunteers to their homes for meals and family celebrations, which are a great opportunity to build ties of trust and sharing. You may encounter more traditional gender roles than exist in the United States. While men have freedom of movement, women may be unable to leave their homes unaccompanied after dark. It is not common for women to jog in Honduras, and those who do never jog alone.
In some parts of Honduras, people abuse alcohol, and in other areas, alcohol is prohibited. You are encouraged to be moderate in your own alcohol consumption because heavy drinking puts you at unnecessary risk and can impact negatively on your and other Volunteers’ reputation in the community.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
To be effective, Volunteers must be respected by the communities in which they work. The Peace Corps builds its reputation not through massive publicity campaigns but through its Volunteers, one community at a time. You should be prepared to be a role model throughout your service. When Volunteers find themselves unable to gain and maintain the respect and confidence of their communities, it is almost always due to the Volunteers’ failure to meet community standards of behavior. Behavior that is detrimental to the image of the Peace Corps or that threatens the reputation or physical safety of other Volunteers can result in administrative separation from the Peace Corps.
Hondurans are fairly traditional and conservative, especially in smaller villages. During pre-service training, you will learn how to dress and act appropriately in such a society, which has double standards for men and women and often for Hondurans and Americans. Your community is likely to hold you to relatively higher standards because you are a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Dressing appropriately can enhance your credibility, since it reflects your respect for the customs and expectations of the people with whom you live and work. Inappropriate dress, like inappropriate behavior, is something that can set you unnecessarily apart from your community. Until you become well-known by Hondurans, your dress will be an important indicator to them. From the biggest city to the remotest village, you will be judged, especially initially, on your appearance.
You will find that some clothing that is considered appropriate for Hondurans is not considered appropriate for you. At the training center, you are expected to dress as you would on the job. Shirts and shoes must be worn at all times, and shorts and T-shirts are not appropriate.
Men will be asked to remove any earrings during pre-service training and the first few months at their site. Pierced eyebrows, noses, and tongues are not permitted during pre-service training and are discouraged during service. If you have a tattoo, it is best to keep it covered. Tattoos are often associated with gang affiliation. A new anti-gang law was recently passed authorizing police to perform searches on people who are considered to be probable gang members. (Though gang tattoos are of a specific nature, you need to be aware of this Honduran reality.)
Hondurans like to dress well and to be neat and clean. Honduran businessmen do not normally wear suits and ties, so male Volunteers can wear a short-sleeved, button-down shirt or nice polo shirt and khakis or nice jeans in professional settings. Casual clothing can be worn at home and in nonformal situations. Low-cut necklines are not appropriate for women, but sleeveless blouses and dresses are fine, especially in coastal areas and certain valleys. Do not bring any military-style clothing (i.e., olive green or camouflage), which Honduran customs officials reserve the right to confiscate.
More detailed 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 (often times 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 have occurred on many occasions, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help 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 Honduras. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
You are likely to derive much satisfaction from helping to improve the living conditions of Hondurans and from learning a new culture and language. You will also encounter unusual social and cultural situations that will require flexibility and understanding on your part. By communicating honestly and demonstrating an interest in Honduras and its people, you will soon come to enjoy your community, its customs, and your role as a Volunteer. A low level of interest, motivation, or participation by community members and co-workers, however, may cause you some frustration. You must remember that development takes time and that you may not immediately see any meaningful impact from your work.
The Peace Corps is not for everyone. Being a Volunteer requires greater dedication and commitment than most other work environments. It is for confident, self-starting, concerned individuals who are interested in participating in the development of other countries and increasing human understanding across cultural barriers. The key to satisfying work as a Peace Corps Volunteer is the ability to establish successful human relationships at all levels with your host family, the community members with whom you work, counterpart agencies and school officials, and your fellow Volunteers. This requires patience, sensitivity, empathy, and a positive, professional attitude. If you have the personal qualities needed to meet the challenges of two years of service in Honduras, you will have a rewarding, enriching, and lasting experience. At the same time, you will contribute to the development of Honduras and leave a part of yourself and your culture behind.
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Prior to becoming a Volunteer, you will participate in an 11week training program in Honduras. Pre-service training
incorporates experiential learning and adult learning methodology that is meant to challenge you while preparing you to begin your work as a Volunteer. Though pre-service training can be taxing at times, Peace Corps/Honduras works to ensure that it is challenging and fun.
Upon arrival in Honduras, trainees move in with host families after a brief introductory session. The first four weeks of training take place in a large group and include trainees from various projects. In the fifth week, most trainees will move to other communities for field-based training, which focuses on the practical application of project technical skills.
Although you were recruited for a particular project and your training will be tailored to the requirements of that project, all Volunteers are considered to be community development facilitators. You will receive theoretical and hands-on training in community analysis, participatory analysis, gender analysis, community development, and integrated community development and become familiar with current development efforts in Honduras. As the weeks pass, you may find that you need to adapt both existing skills and new skills to the work environment in Honduras.
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 host 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. Honduran language instructors teach formal language classes five days a week in small groups of three to five people. They will also be available for individual tutoring sessions on Saturday mornings and after hours during the week.
Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to do 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 on your own during your two years of service.
Project training will prepare you to work in Honduras 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 project staff, training staff, Honduran 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.
Project training includes sessions on the general economic and political environment in Honduras and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your project’s goals and will meet with the Honduran agencies and organizations that have 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 part of your pre-service training, you will live with two Honduran host families—one during center-based training and another during field-based training. As a member of the family, you will engage in routine family activities and share in their meals. An important part of both cross-cultural and language training, 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 Honduras. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
Cross-cultural and community development training will help you improve your communication skills and understand your role as a facilitator of development. You will be exposed to topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, nonformal and adult education strategies, and political structures.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You are 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 Honduras. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (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 frequent opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. During service, there are a number of training events. The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
- In-service training: Provides opportunities for Volunteers to upgrade their project, language, safety and security and community development skills while sharing their experiences and reaffirming their commitment after having served for three months and again after eight months.
- Midterm project reviews (done in conjunction with midterm medical exams): Assists Volunteers in reviewing their first year, reassessing their personal and project objectives, and planning for their second year of service.
- Close of service conference: Prepares Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service and reviews their respective projects and personal experiences.
The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted to country-specific needs and conditions. The key to the training system is that training events are integrated and interrelated, from the pre-departure orientation through the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by the training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN HONDURAS
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. Peace Corps/Honduras maintains a clinic with four full-time medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary health-care needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and treatment, are also available at regional medical facilities. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported to a major hospital in the capital and then, if necessary, medically evacuated to the United States.
Health Issues in Honduras
Malaria is endemic in almost all of Honduras, so taking antimalarial medication is mandatory for Volunteers throughout service. Bites and scratches by rabies-carrying animals can also be life-threatening, so pre-exposure and post-exposure rabies vaccines are also mandatory. Mild to severe viral illnesses like dengue fever (including hemorrhagic dengue) are also threats to health in Honduras. It is also likely that you will contract parasites during your service.
Existing skin conditions like acne and eczema often worsen in Honduras because of the climate. Sun-aggravated and fungal skin conditions are fairly common. Solar keratosis, a precancerous skin condition, can be acquired from prolonged exposure to sun without adequate protection.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon arrival in Honduras, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training, you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter.
During pre-service training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical officer. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as 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 shipments to arrive.
You will have physicals at midservice and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Honduras will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Honduras, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept considerable responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage “An ounce of prevention …” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States.
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken.
These illnesses include food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Honduras during pre-service training.
Honduras has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Central America, and the disease is a growing problem. 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 risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from the medical officer about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let the medical officer know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met.
Because of Honduras’ warm, moist climate, vaginal yeast infections can occur with greater frequency than usual. We therefore recommend that women wear loose-fitting, cotton undergarments to help prevent this condition.
If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical officer in Honduras will provide them. If you require a specific feminine hygiene product, please bring a six-month supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a medical kit at the end of pre-service training that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the Peace Corps medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Tinactin (antifungal cream)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment shortly after you arrive in Honduras. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, it will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. We discourage you from using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in health-care 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 health-care 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 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. Petty 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 83 percent of Volunteers surveyed 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 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 in the Volunteer’s control. Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2003, 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, 47 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the late evening between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.— most often occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: More than 75 percent of crime incidents occurred when a Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Almost a third 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; and Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise. The safety and security team also tracks crime statistics, identifies trends in criminal activity, and highlights potential safety risks to Volunteers.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed. After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provides support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/trainees in Honduras as compared to all other Inter-America and Pacific (IAP) region programs as a whole, from 1999–2003. 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 the eight most commonly occurring assault types. 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 Honduras
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 Honduras. 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. Tourist attractions are favorite work sites for pickpockets.
There is increased gang activity in all the major cities in Honduras, and gangs have begun to make inroads into rural areas as well. Assaults and robberies attributed to gangs have been reported on buses, so Volunteers are prohibited from traveling on certain bus routes. In addition, Volunteers are encouraged to limit their nighttime activities, which may require a modification in social habits.
Recent economic developments have increased criminal activity in all areas of the country. Kidnappings of national and foreign citizens have occurred, and drive-by motorcyclists in the capital sometimes snatch someone’s purse or bag without stopping. Being alone in an isolated area increases the risk of criminal activity.
Some areas of Honduras are banned or highly discouraged for Volunteers. These areas include all beaches at night (banned as many rapes have occured), all areas east of Trujillo in the department of Colon (banned) and San Pedro Sula (temporary ban). Peace Corps/Honduras expects Volunteers to comply at all times with its safety and security regulations. Volunteers must take responsibility for their actions and make the best choices possible to keep themselves safe.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your home is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Honduras, 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 Honduras may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention both in large cities and at their sites, but they are likely to receive more negative attention in highly populated centers than at their sites, where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to unwanted attention. It is also important to be aware of and respectful of cultural differences because your body language, manners, and dress may send an unintended message to Hondurans.
Keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch, the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. You should always walk with a companion at night, and it is a good idea to share any travel plans and your destination with a trusted friend.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer
Support in Honduras
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. Honduras’ in-country safety program is outlined below.
Peace Corps/Honduras has an extensive information sharing network, through which Peace Corps staff will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety. 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. Upon your arrival, you will be asked to provide Peace Corps staff with an e-mail address to facilitate the information-sharing process. This address will serve as a point of contact for Peace Corps staff for programmatic, administrative, and safety and security information.
Volunteer training will include sessions on specific safety and security issues in Honduras. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, and health 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; different housing options and living arrangements; and other Volunteer support needs.
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Honduras’ detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. Volunteers who live in areas where beepers can be used will be issued one. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Honduras will gather at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved 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 safety and security officer or the medical officer. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
DIVERSITY AND CROSSCULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling 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 community. 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 Honduras, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Honduras.
Outside of Honduras’ capital and other large cities, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What is viewed 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 Honduras are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Honduras, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Honduras
One aspect of cultural adaptation is being sensitive to the diversity among the Volunteer population. The Peace Corps staff in Honduras recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of 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.
In addition to the support provided to Volunteers by Peace Corps/Honduras staff, several peer support groups exist to help Volunteers serve effectively. COLORS is an organization of Volunteers whose vision is to create an environment where diversity is respected and celebrated in fulfillment of the Peace Corps’ goal of intercultural exchange. The Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Experience (GLOBE) was formed in 1998 to promote the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers by providing direct support and by educating the Peace Corps community. The Support Advocacy Group (SAG) is available to any Volunteer or trainee who needs a supportive network of concerned Volunteers trained in active listening. SAG members are strategically located throughout Honduras and can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected] Lastly, OAKS (Older and Knowing Souls) is a support group formed in 2003 to support the needs of older Volunteers in Honduras.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
You should be prepared for unwanted attention from Honduran men simply because you are an American woman. American women are sometimes perceived as being “easy” because of stereotypes portrayed on American TV shows and movies aired on Honduran television. It is very common to receive stares, comments, or requests for dates or sex on the street and in other situations. In addition, women often are not taken as seriously as men in their jobs and may not receive the respect that is readily given to both American and Honduran men. In Honduran culture, a woman is viewed as either a “mother” or a “daughter.” Therefore, if you are not married, you may be treated like a daughter or a child instead of a grown woman.
Honduran women have very specific, traditional roles (i.e., they generally do not work outside of the home), which some Hondurans may think female Volunteers should adopt.
Working with men can be difficult if they refuse to believe a woman is capable of work other than cleaning the house or raising children. Working with women can be difficult when they cannot understand why a woman would want to do anything that is not “women’s work.” Honduran men also have specific roles, and machismo, or manliness, is considered very important. Men are expected to be dominant in almost all aspects of society; they are expected to smoke, drink, pursue women, be strong, and be willing to discipline their wife and children. Thus male Volunteers who do not drink, smoke, or like to pursue women openly may get teased or chided for not being manly enough. Both female and male Volunteers will learn strategies to handle these situations during pre-service training.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
African-American Volunteers may be viewed as less professionally competent than white Volunteers. They may be called negrita, trigueña, or other words that distinguish them as dark-skinned. Although these terms are not necessarily derogatory, Volunteers may initially feel demeaned by them. In addition, Hondurans may not believe you are an American, thinking you must come from the north coast of Honduras or the Bay Islands, which have a heavy concentration of Garifuna or black Caribs.
Hondurans may expect Hispanic Americans to interact socially with more ease. Likewise, Volunteers with Latino surnames may be expected to speak Spanish fluently and may not be perceived as being North American.
Asian Americans, too, are often identified more by their cultural heritage than by their American citizenship. Hondurans may expect you to be a kung fu expert because of stereotypes based on behavior observed in films. Many Asians are labeled as Chinese, regardless of their actual ethnic background. Honduras’ current or historical involvement with certain Asian countries, or the presence of Asian merchants in the community, may also have an impact on how Asian-American Volunteers are perceived.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Senior Volunteers often receive more respect from Hondurans than younger Volunteers do. But seniors need to be aware of
possible issues of inclusion and acceptance by fellow Volunteers. Others in the Peace Corps community may have little understanding of the lives and experiences of seniors, and seniors may not receive the personal support they desire from younger Volunteers. Nor may senior Volunteers feel comfortable sharing personal, sexual, or health concerns with younger members of the Peace Corps staff. On the other hand, seniors may find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support. While some seniors find this a very enjoyable part of their experience, others choose not to fill this role.
Older trainees sometimes encounter a lack of attention to their particular needs for an effective learning environment and may need to be assertive in developing an individual approach to language learning, for instance. Senior Volunteers should consider designating a power of attorney for management of their financial affairs during service.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Homosexuality is not illegal in Honduras; however, it is met
with varying degrees of acceptance by Hondurans, one’s community, and other Volunteers. Volunteers generally choose
not to be open about their sexual orientation in their communities, but often do reveal it to individuals with whom they have built a trusting relationship. You will have to decide for yourself how open to be.
Like most Volunteers, you may have difficulties with the machismo in Honduras. 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 in which men brag about sexual conquests or objectify women. You will have to develop personal strategies to deal with such situations.
Peace Corps staff are committed to supporting gay and bisexual Volunteers, but they may not always know how best to do so. You will need to be patient and willing to educate staff and other Volunteers about your needs. Peace Corps/Honduras has a Volunteer support group called GLOBE (for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Experience) that meets quarterly and maintains an e-mail address. If you would like to contact GLOBE before your departure, send an e-mail to [email protected]
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Honduras is a Christian country, with the Roman Catholic and Evangelical faiths being predominant. There is little knowledge among Hondurans of other world religions, and Volunteers of other faiths may experience stereotyping or misinformation about their religion. Volunteers should be prepared to be challenged by local people when they express or practice their own beliefs, but this is primarily the result of curiosity or ignorance. Many Volunteers choose not to draw attention to their own religion to avoid awkward or sensitive situations. This is a very personal choice that can only be made on an individual basis. There is a strong Jewish community in Tegucigalpa and San Peudro Sula that has been very welcoming to Jewish Volunteers. Those who want more information about religious challenges in Honduras are encouraged to contact the COLORS support group.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
There is little consciousness of the needs of the physically challenged in Honduras. Volunteers with physical disabilities may find mobility difficult because the infrastructure does not make many accommodations for disabled people.
Nevertheless, 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 Honduras without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/Honduras staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Being a married couple in the Peace Corps has its advantages and its challenges. It helps to have someone by your side to share your experience with, but there are also cultural expectations that can cause stress in a marriage. It is important to remember that you are in a foreign country with new rules and you need to be open-minded about cultural differences. A couple may have to take on some new roles. A married man may be encouraged by Hondurans to be the more dominant member in the relationship, be encouraged to make decisions independently of his spouse, or be ridiculed when he performs domestic tasks. A married woman may find herself in a less independent role than she is accustomed to or may be expected to perform “traditional” domestic chores such as cooking or cleaning. Other issues may also arise: One spouse may be more enthusiastic about Peace Corps service, be better able to adapt to the new environment, or be less homesick than the other. Competition may arise if one spouse learns the language or other skills faster than the other.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Honduras?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The Peace Corps’ allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds for any one bag.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.
What is the electric current in Honduras?
Both 110 volts, 60 cycles (the U.S. standard), and 220 volts can be found in houses in Honduras. The outlets often are close to each other and easily confused, so you need to know which outlet to use. Some Volunteers do not have electricity in their houses or have it only for a few hours a day.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects; Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase such insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers are cautioned not to 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 Honduras do not need to get an international driver’s license. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks and lots of walking. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a host country agency vehicle, but this can occur only with prior written permission of the country director. Should this occur, the Volunteer may obtain a local driver’s license. A U.S. driver’s license will facilitate the process, so bring it with you just in case.
What should I bring as gifts for Honduran 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 assigned to individual sites in the eighth week of training but do not move to the sites until after they have completed training. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s project and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their Honduran counterparts. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a 10- to 12-hour bus ride 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; select option 2, then 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, extension 2521 or 2512.
Can I call home from Honduras?
International phone service to and from Honduras is relatively good but expensive. Hondutel, the local telephone agency, has offices in many cities and towns, and some of these offices offer direct lines to U.S. long-distance carriers.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
No. A cellphone purchased in the United States will not work in Honduras. Although you can buy a cellphone in Honduras, the monthly charges are excessive and are not covered by the monthly living allowance.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
There are a growing number of Internet cafes in urban centers throughout Honduras. Volunteers receive a monthly allowance for Internet use and are encouraged to utilize businesses in or near their communities. Volunteers do not have access to the equipment used by Peace Corps staff. If you choose to bring a laptop computer to Honduras, please take extra precautions as they are subject to theft and damage. If you choose to bring a laptop or other valuable equipment, you should insure it against theft and water damage.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Honduras 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 80pound weight restriction on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Honduras.
Your clothes should be sturdy enough to hold up under rough wear and laundry techniques and free of the need for ironing. The amount of professional versus casual clothing you bring should be based on personal preference and on the type of work you will be doing. For example, a water and sanitation Volunteer probably needs more casual clothes for work than does a small business Volunteer. Shorts are acceptable in limited circumstances, but especially in larger towns and for athletic activities. Women, however, should also bring sweatpants that are comfortable to work out in. Note that big and tall sizes are often difficult to find in Honduras, as are women’s shoes larger than size 8 and men’s shoes larger than size 10-1/2. Because there are many good tailors and seamstresses in Honduras who can make many styles at a reasonable price, you may want to bring patterns or pictures of clothing that they can copy or adapt for you.
- About 20 tops, including button-down shirts or nice blouses and casual shirts (polo shirts, tank tops, T-shirts), a few of them long sleeved
- One or two sweaters or sweatshirts
- Appropriate socks for all your shoes, at least 10 pairs
- Two-week supply of underwear
- One or two swimsuits
- Rain gear (poncho or raincoat)
- Light jacket or windbreaker
- Caps and hats (for both sun protection and warmth)
- Belts or suspenders
- Clothes for running, if you run
- Five to eight pairs of pants for work (nice jeans or khakis), two or three pairs of dressy pants (nice khakis are suitable), and two or three pairs of casual pants
- One or two pairs of fairly long shorts
- One or two ties and a sport coat for formal occasions (can be worn with nice khakis) For Women
- Three to six pairs of pants for work (e.g., khakis)
- Two or three pairs of casual pants (e.g., jeans)
- One to four pairs of long shorts
- One to three skirts or dresses
- Two dressy outfits for formal occasions
Note: Pants are just as acceptable as dresses or skirts with blouses.
- One or two pairs of sturdy, comfortable shoes for work, depending on your project
- One pair of hiking boots or Vibram-soled shoes (Honduras is wet and muddy in the rainy season)
- One pair of running shoes, if you run
- One pair of comfortable casual shoes
- One pair of dress shoes
- Flip-flops (can easily be bought in Honduras)
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
Most items can be purchased in Honduras, but you might want to bring a start-up supply of soap, shampoo, shaving cream, etc. If you have particular needs with regard to cosmetics or soaps because of allergies, bring a supply of those items. Women who prefer a brand of tampon other than the Tampax provided by the Peace Corps should bring their own supply.
A wide variety of kitchen supplies, foods, and spices are available in Honduras.
- Camera, replacement batteries, and film (consider insuring the camera)
- Day pack or small backpack
- Fairly cheap, water-resistant and shockproof watch
- Small flashlight and extra batteries (size AA is easy to find in Honduras)
- Money belt or fanny pack
- Pillowcase(s) (can buy in country)
- Multiple-utility pocketknife (Swiss Army type)
- Two flat sheets or a set for a double bed (can buy in country)
- Small travel alarm clock and extra batteries
- Sturdy backpack or duffel bag for three-to-four-day trips
- Pocket-size Spanish-English dictionary
- Fast-drying towels (two bath towels, one beach towel, one hand towel, and two washcloths)
- A few U.S. dollars for your first few days in-country
- Backgammon and other travel games
- Good scissors (can buy in country)
- Inexpensive jewelry (can buy in country)
- Small iron (can buy in country)
- Light, stuffable (preferably waterproof) sleeping bag with a pad
- Photos of family and friends
- Radio (including shortwave) or cassette player with electrical cord and extra batteries or rechargeable batteries (can buy in country)
- Simple tool set
- Small sewing kit
- Start-up supply of stationery, pens, etc. (can buy in country)
- World map or lightweight atlas
- Plastic food storage bags (can buy in country)
- Luggage locks
- Good-quality water bottle
- Project-specific books (e.g., for identification of trees, medicinal plants, birds)
The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone, and the list does not include everything you should make arrangements for.
- Notify family that they can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; after-hours duty officer: 202.638.2574).
- Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular passport.)
- Complete any needed dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
- Arrange to bring a six-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while you are away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your health care during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have preexisting conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage. If there is a lapse in coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
- Purchase personal property insurance to extend from the time you leave your home for service overseas until the time you complete your service and return to the United States.
- Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender or loan service.
- Execute a power of attorney for the management of your property and business.
- Arrange for deductions from your readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.