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===History of the Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic===
===History of the Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic===
Revision as of 23:39, 2 February 2008
For the official Welcome Book for Kyrgyz Republic see here
PEACE CORPS / KYRGYZ REPUBLIC HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic
Since the first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in the Kyrgyz Republic in 1993, more than 450 Americans have served in the country. Volunteers have taught English, led sustainable community development projects and built the capacity of organizations throughout the country. The Peace Corps’ programs respond to requests from the government of the Kyrgyz Republic to assist with increasing the level of English competency among its students and teachers and to help communities and civil society organizations develop sustainable community development projects.
Fifty-three dedicated Volunteers were serving in small communities throughout the Kyrgyz Republic when they were evacuated as a precautionary measure following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Prior to returning Volunteers to the Kyrgyz Republic, the Peace Corps conducted a thorough safety and security review. Part of this work included reviewing the impact of the coalition military base at Manas Airport outside of the capital, Bishkek. The Kyrgyz people and government were very supportive of the Peace Corps, and three Volunteers returned in March 2002 to reopen the program. Today, there are more than 100 Volunteers serving in communities throughout the republic.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in the Kyrgyz Republic
Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic works in two primary areas:
TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) in secondary schools and university English teaching; and sustainable organizational and community development (SOCD).
Volunteers in the TEFL sector primarily teach the English language in secondary schools, universities, and other educational institutions and a few are also teaching history and literature to more advanced students. Volunteers serve as regular members of the teaching faculty in their schools and teach between 150 and 200 students each year. Most are also involved in extracurricular activities such as environmental education projects, HIV/AIDS education, computer training, and youth development through girls’ or boys’ clubs. In addition, working with Kyrgyz educators, Volunteers develop language instruction resources and conduct training workshops in teaching methodology for teachers at all levels.
Volunteers in the sustainable organizational and community development sector are assigned to a variety of agencies and institutions across the country. Volunteers work with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and government-sponsored community-based groups to increase their organizational capacities and assist local communities in promoting sustainable community development.
In 2007, Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic will initiate a new health promotion project in partnership with the Ministry of Health.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: THE KYRGYZ REPUBLIC AT A GLANCE
The Kyrgyz Republic is a beautiful, mountainous country in Central Asia that is bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China. There is little contemporary documented history about the Kyrgyz people and their land, as the Soviets “Russified” the indigenous ethnic groups and cultures across the Soviet Union. The Kyrgyz people are traditional nomadic herders who have often been subjected to the influences of foreign rulers and cultures due to their strategic location on the Silk Road.
The earliest known residents of the area that is now the Kyrgyz Republic were the warrior clans of Saka, also known as the Scythians. These gold-laden, nomadic horsemen traversed the land between the Black Sea and western China from about the sixth century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. From the 6th century to the 10th century, the Kyrgyz region was controlled by various Turkish groups, many of whom lived on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, the second highest lake in the world after Lake Titicaca in South America. These groups, particularly the Turkic Karakhanids, introduced Islam to the area between the 10th century and 12th century.
Historians believe that the ancestors of today’s Kyrgyz most likely came from Siberia’s upper Yenisey River basin and were driven south in the 10th century by the Mongol incursions into the region. Mongol influence continued until 1758, when the Manchus (of China’s Ching dynasty) defeated the Mongol Oyrats of the Zhungarian Empire, leaving the Kyrgyz people to continue their herding lifestyle in peace.
An important influence in the cultural development of the Kyrgyz region was the extensive trade route known as the Silk Road, which took 200 days to traverse in full. The Kyrgyz region, along the route’s middle section, was one of the main stopovers for traders traveling from western China to the Mediterranean Sea in the 2nd century to the 13th century, providing sources of transportation (horses and camels) and lodging for the traders.
Russians and Ukrainians soon began settling there. Repressive Russian policies, particularly land appropriation, led to open revolt in 1916 throughout Central Asia. The Russians retaliated and drove one-third of the Kyrgyz population into neighboring China.
The Kokand khanate, based in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan, ruled the Kyrgyz during the 18th century. In 1865, the Russians, joining a number of allied Kyrgyz forces, defeated the Kokand khanate and gradually brought the Kyrgyz under the rule of the czar. The new rulers appropriated land for Russian settlers until the Kyrgyz revolted in 1916. Massacres ensued, resulting in the death of 120,000 Kyrgyz and prompting an additional 120,000 to flee to China. The Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was created in 1926 and in 1936 became a republic of the Soviet Union known as Kirghizia.
Part of the Soviet Union for most of the 20th century, the
Kyrgyz Republic declared its independence on August 31,
1991. Today, the country is a vibrant mix of Russian and traditional influences struggling for economic vitality. Once regarded as among the most conservative of the former Soviet republics, the Kyrgyz Republic is attempting to promote liberal economic policies and to integrate itself into the global community. However, poverty remains widespread, particularly in rural areas. Per capita income in the Kyrgyz Republic is one of the lowest in the former Soviet Union, with most people earning around $300 per year.
The Kyrgyz Republic’s government is a unicameral parliamentary system with a strong executive branch. The legislative assembly consists of 75 popularly elected members who serve four-year terms. There are more than 10 political parties in the country. The presidential term is five years. The current president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, was elected in July 2005 after popular demonstrations earlier in the year led to the ouster of long-time president Askar Akayev. In November 2006 anti-government protesters took to the streets calling for the president to resign and for lawmakers to amend the constitution to take some powers away from the executive office. As the Welcome Book goes to print, lawmakers are working on the draft of a new constitution acceptable to both sides of this debate. The next presidential election is scheduled to take place in 2010.
The Kyrgyz people were largely traditional nomadic shepherds. However, the Soviet period led to the establishment of collective agriculture, and 200 collective farms operated in the Kyrgyz Republic prior to independence. Today, agriculture accounts for 40 percent of the country’s economic output, and there are more than 29,000 private farms and almost 610,000 farmers. The major agricultural products include wool, leather, potatoes, sugar beets, poppy seeds, tobacco, fruits, grains, and medicinal plants. The government hopes to diversify the economy with a focus on light industries, microelectronics, and tourism.
The country’s transition to a free-market economy has not
been without its trials. However, the economic reforms have resulted in several milestones: World Bank membership
and Most-Favored-Nation trading status with the United States in 1992; introduction of non-Soviet currency in 1993; observer status in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1993; becoming the first Central Asian country to receive International Monetary Fund funding in 1993; Asian Development Bank membership in 1994; and World Trade Organization membership in 1998.
People and Culture
The Kyrgyz think of themselves as the poets and artists of Central Asia. Nothing illustrates this spirit more than the Epic of Manas, the longest narrative poem in the world. Manas is a hero who, according to legend, unified tribal leaders long ago in the mountains and valleys now known as the Kyrgyz Republic.
About 5 million people live in the Kyrgyz Republic, mostly inhabiting the fertile foothills and plains north of the Tien Shan Mountains. A quarter of the population lives in Bishkek, the capital. The country of Manas comprises more than 80 ethnic groups from all over Asia and Eastern Europe. While the people are predominantly Kyrgyz, a significant number of Uzbeks live in the south of the country and many Russians live in the north. Both Kyrgyz and Russian are the official languages.
While most of the Kyrgyz people are Muslim, Islam only lightly influences their daily lives. In the north, many people of Russian and European descent are Russian Orthodox Christians, but this religion plays a minor role in Kyrgyz culture.
The country has a very rich mix of traditions and customs. The Kyrgyz people are known for their felt and ceramic crafts and for their Silk Road-related history. Soviet culture fostered opera and ballet groups, theaters, and museums. Ancient tribal affiliations still govern social norms in many parts of the south where you find more of a mix of western and traditional Uzbek and Kyrgyz cultures. Aging, Soviet-style towns define the north. Most people in Bishkek wear Western-style clothes and fret about the same things Americans do: Jobs (or the lack thereof), bills, and pothole-covered roads. Wherever you are in the country, though, you will find people proudly wearing traditional garments and hats, especially around the bazaars and taxi stands that cater to the Kyrgyz who travel into town from surrounding villages to sell their farm products.
In both rural and urban areas, Kyrgyz social life centers on the family. Many Volunteers live with a host family at their sites throughout their service and find this to be one of the most rewarding aspects of their Peace Corps experience.
The country’s rugged, snowcapped mountains define its landscape and weather. It can be cold in the winter, and there is usually snow in the northern plains and in the mountains to the south from December to February. The south is more temperate, and wild tulips bloom when mountain runoff and spring rains irrigate the land. Summers can be dusty.
The terrain provides many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, including white-water rafting, fishing, camping, horseback riding, hiking, winter skiing, hot springs, glaciers, mountain climbing (two peaks are higher than 21,000 feet), and visits to historic Silk Road sites. Your future site is sure to be close to at least some of these activities.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and the Kyrgyz Republic and to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it.
A note of caution: As you surf these sites, be aware that you will find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to give opinions and advice based on their own experiences. The opinions expressed are not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government. You may find opinions of people who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. As you read these comments, we hope you will keep in mind that the Peace Corps is not for everyone, and no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About the Kyrgyz Republic
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Bishkek to how to convert from the dollar to the som. Just click on the Kyrgyz Republic and go from there.
Visit this site to learn about any country in the world.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find the Kyrgyz Republic and learn more about its social and political history.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information, and each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political background.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information for countries around the world.
You can also visit the following sites to get more information about the political, economic and social situation in Kyrgyzstan.
The Internet Access and Training Program (IATP) is a program of the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (ECA), US Department of State, funded under the Freedom Support Act (FSA). IATP is administered by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX).
News website with the latest headlines from the Kyrgyz Republic and around the region.
The U.S. State Department’s website with the up-to-date profile of the Kyrgyz Republic.
The online CIA World Factbook site delivers a comprehensive profile of the Kyrgyz Republic. The website offers searchable features including resource maps, flags of the World, and country profiles.
Visit the Lonely Planet online guide for interactive resources on the Kyrgyz Republic including photographs, discussion groups, tips from travelers and a travel guide overview of the Kyrgyz Republic.
EurasiaNet provides information and analysis about political, economic, environmental and social developments in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as in Russia, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia. The web site also offers additional features, including newsmaker interviews and book reviews.
The United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) links its policy-driven programs and projects with a powerful partnership with the Government, civil society and other national and international partners in addressing strategic challenges of transition
Wikipedia is an online resource with a profile, related articles and links, and interactive resources on the Kyrgyz Republic.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local Volunteer activities.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts of their Peace Corps service.
This RPCV Web ring links numerous returned Peace Corps Volunteers’ websites together.
- Anderson, John. Kyrgyzstan: Central Asia’s Island of Democracy? NY: Routledge, 1999.
- Copetas, A. Craig. Bear Hunting With the Politburo: An American’s Adventures in Russian Capitalism. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, Updated edition, 2001.
- Feshbach, Murray, and Alfred Friendly, Jr. Ecocide in the USSR: Health and Nature Under Siege. NY: Basic Books, 1993.
- Giampaolo, Capisani R. The Handbook of Central Asia: A Comprehensive Survey of the New Republics. Clevedon, UK: I.B. Tauris, 2000.
- Hopkirk, Kathleen. A Traveller’s Companion to Central Asia. London: John Murray, 1994.
- Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. NY: Kodansha International, 1992. (Note: this title may be out of print; readers may be able to get copies through their local library or Amazon.com.)
- MacLean, Fitzroy. Eastern Approaches. NY: Penguin Putnam Reprint edition, 1999. (Originally published in 1949).
- Mayhew, Bradley, Paul Clammer, and Michael Kohn. Central Asia. London: Lonely Planet, 3rd edition, 2004.
- Olcott, Martha Brill. Central Asia’s New States: Independence, Foreign Policy, and Regional Security. Herndon, Va.: United States Institute of Peace, 1997. (Note: this title may be out of print; readers may be able to get copies through their local library or Amazon.com.)
- Peterson, D.J. Troubled Lands: The Legacy of Soviet Environmental Destruction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993. (Note: this title may be out of print; readers may be able to get copies through their local library or Amazon.com.)
- Richmond, Yale. From Nyet to Da: Understanding the Russians. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 3rd edition, 2003.
- Rosenberg, Robert. This Is Not Civilization. Boston, MA: Mariner Books, 2005.
- Stewart, Rowan, and Suzie Weldon. Kyrgyz Republic: Kyrgyzstan, the Heartland of Central Asia. NY: Odyssey Publications, 2nd edition, 2004. (Distributed in the U.S. by W.W. Norton.)
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, CA: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, WA: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, N.Y.: Picador, 2003.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, NY: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, CA: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
During pre-service training, you will receive mail at a post office near the training site (you will be given this address before you depart for overseas). Once you have moved to your assigned site, you will use your residence or workplace as a permanent mailing address. The Peace Corps office cannot accept mail for Volunteers except in extraordinary circumstances.
Mail from the United States usually takes two to four weeks to arrive at Volunteer sites. Advise your family and friends to number their letters so you will be able to tell when a letter has gone astray. Also tell them to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes.
International telephone service is generally available throughout the Kyrgyz Republic, but it is expensive. Calling cards make calling the United States much easier because you can call the AT&T operator in Moscow (095.155.5042) and place the call directly. The time in the Kyrgyz Republic is 11 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (10 hours during Daylight Savings Time). Phone service within the Kyrgyz Republic is improving, but it can be a difficult experience, depending on factors such as the time of day and weather conditions. The national telephone agency has offices in all major cities and in some smaller towns, but if you are calling from outside Bishkek, it is sometimes difficult to secure a line.
Most Volunteers take advantage of local Internet cafes to make international phone calls. This low-cost way of calling the United States is available in most urban areas throughout the country. Though the connection is not always the best, the service is by far the least expensive way of staying in touch with your family and friends.
There are two cellular companies in the Kyrgyz Republic, and more and more Kyrgyz are using cell phones, especially in the capital. However, coverage is spotty and unpredictable outside Bishkek.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
The Peace Corps office has several computers with Internet access in its resource center that may be used by Volunteers when they are in the office on official business. In addition, Volunteers can access E-mail at Internet cafés in many of the larger towns in the Kyrgyz Republic.
Housing and Site Location
Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic assigns Volunteers to the sites with the greatest need and to schools and organizations that demonstrate potential for making the best use of Volunteers’ skills. Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic has a mandatory three-month homestay policy and asks the sponsoring agency to provide the Volunteer with adequate, safe housing, which is paid for by the Peace Corps. The housing varies from site to site and is typically with a family or within a family’s compound.
The housing will have simple basic furniture such as a bed, a table and chairs, a wardrobe or bureau for clothing, and access to a stove and a refrigerator. The Peace Corps will provide you with a water filter or distiller. In addition, because winters in the Kyrgyz Republic are cold and many heating systems are inadequate, the Peace Corps will also provide you with an electric heater. Still, you will probably need long underwear and will definitely need a warm sleeping bag, as electricity is not always reliable.
You need to be very flexible in your housing expectations, as there is no guarantee that there will be an indoor toilet or that running water or electricity will be available continuously at your assigned site.
Living Allowance and Money Management
The Kyrgyz Republic has a cash-based economy. There are now ATM machines in Bishkek, but few opportunities to use credit cards other than buying international plane tickets from a local travel agency or online. The rate of exchange between the dollar and the local currency, the som, has been stable in recent years, with the dollar losing value slightly to the som.
As a Volunteer in the Kyrgyz Republic, you will live at the same economic level as your neighbors and colleagues. You will receive a modest monthly living allowance (deposited in local currency into a bank account you will open at your site) to cover food, utilities, household supplies, hygiene products, clothing, recreation and entertainment, local transportation, telephone calls, reading materials, and other personal expenses. The amount of this allowance may not seem like a lot of money, but you will find yourself earning more than many of your colleagues and supervisors.
You will also receive a $24 monthly vacation allowance and a one-time settling-in allowance in local currency to purchase household items when you move to your permanent site. The settling-in allowance is intended to defray part of the costs of items such as cooking utensils, dishes, towels, and blankets.
Finally, you will be given a quarterly program travel allowance to support regional exchanges with other Volunteers and to travel to Bishkek to visit international organizations or meet with your program manager. This allowance is designed to encourage Volunteers to exchange knowledge, skills, and best practices about their primary and secondary projects with one another.
Food and Diet
People in the Kyrgyz Republic eat a lot of meat and vegetables (e.g., potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions), with much of the food fried or boiled. There is a wide range of fresh food for sale in markets throughout the republic during the spring, summer, and fall, including meat, vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts. Oranges, bananas, and apples can be found in some parts of the country but are often expensive.
Fruits and vegetables are, of course, seasonal, but it is possible to be a vegetarian in the Kyrgyz Republic. A sufficient variety of food is available to maintain a healthy vegetarian diet, and previous Volunteers have been successful at doing so with a little advance planning. The markets have white, pinto, mung, and red beans; chickpeas and split peas; pasta; rice; and peanuts and other nuts. Cheese, eggs, and milk are available in many, but not all, markets, and potatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions can be found almost everywhere. Tofu is available in larger towns. The most difficult aspect probably will be the social pressure to eat meat, but with a little patience, most vegetarians have served their two years with few problems.
Because of safety issues, Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on two- or three-wheeled motorized vehicles for any reason. Volunteers are not allowed to own or drive private automobiles or tractors. Road travel between oblasts after dark is prohibited. Road travel after dark within oblasts is strongly discouraged; Violation of these policies may result in the termination of your Volunteer service.
Most Volunteers travel in the country in commercial vans (called marshrutkas), but some choose to pay more and hire long-distance taxis. Although the vans often do not operate on a set schedule, there is regular public transportation between cities. Travel by bus among cities is also available.
Geography and Climate
The Kyrgyz Republic borders Kazakhstan in the north and northwest, Uzbekistan in the southwest, Tajikistan in the south, and China in the southeast. The Tien Shan mountain range covers approximately 95 percent of the country, which is about the size of Nebraska. The mountaintops are perennially covered with snow glaciers.
The Kyrgyz Republic has four seasons, including very cold winters and hot, dry summers. The duration of each season depends on the region of the country. In the mountains, the temperature can drop as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. In the rest of the country, winter is much like winters in the Midwestern United States, but without so much snow. The north is much colder than the south, with normal winter temperatures in the mid-teens to low 20s.
Volunteers are expected to develop relationships with people in their communities and participate in the social activities available at their sites. Outside of Bishkek, there is little formal entertainment (e.g., the opera, theater, cinemas, etc). Therefore, both the Kyrgyz people and Volunteers, especially in small towns and villages, spend much of their leisure time “guesting.” Guesting means being invited to a home for a meal; this could last up to five or six hours, depending on the time of day. As the only American, and often the only foreigner, present in a community, you will often be the guest of honor.
Being a guest in a Kyrgyz home can be simultaneously rewarding and stressful. The local people, whether ethnic Kyrgyz, Uzbek, or Russian, are hospitable, charismatic hosts. This means that you, as the guest, will be constantly encouraged to eat and drink more and more. Although it can be difficult to convey to people you do not know well that you have had enough to eat or drink and that you do not want any more or need to go home, Volunteers find that they are better able to manage such situations as their language skills develop.
Alcohol is prevalent in most social situations in the Kyrgyz Republic and can cause stress for Volunteers. Volunteers may regularly feel pressure to drink heavily when in new social surroundings either with their new Kyrgyz friends or with other Volunteers. The pressure to drink often eases as a Volunteer becomes better known, and many Volunteers abstain from drinking in their sites. Program managers and the safety and security and medical officers help Volunteers develop strategies to manage the pressure of alcohol consumption.
The Peace Corps has policies and strategies that will help Volunteers assess and manage their use of alcohol. Excessive use of alcohol may result in behavior that affects your performance, effectiveness, safety and credibility. Inappropriate behavior resulting from alcohol abuse or the inability to carry out your assignment due to alcohol use is grounds for administrative separation from the Peace Corps. Alcohol use has been a factor in injuries and assaults involving Volunteers in posts throughout the world, including the Kyrgyz Republic. The Kyrgyzstani judicial system considers use of alcohol as an aggravating factor in criminal cases. Individuals with a history or predisposition for alcohol abuse should seriously consider whether the Kyrgyz Republic is an appropriate assignment for you.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
People in the Kyrgyz Republic take pride in their personal appearance and tend to dress up both for social occasions and for daily activities and generally dress more formally than Americans. While most people cannot afford a large wardrobe—it is not unusual to see co-workers wear the same outfit two or three days in a row—wearing clean and ironed cloths is important. To gain the acceptance, respect, and confidence of Kyrgyz colleagues, therefore, it is essential that you dress and conduct yourself professionally. Professional dress is required in the workplace, which means mid-length or long skirts with blouses or dresses for women living in more rural or conservative areas of the country, and pressed chinos or dress slacks with jackets or sweaters for men. Dress shoes or boots are also essential. As it is the custom to take off your shoes before entering someone’s home, Volunteers might wish to bring with them shoes that easily slip on or off rather than ones with laces.
The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to behave in a way that will foster respect in their communities and reflect well on the Peace Corps and the citizens of the United States. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest and must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts. You will receive an orientation on appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training.
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 (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, being perceived as well-off, and alcohol abuse are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Some Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Kyrgyz Republic Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in the Kyrgyz Republic. At the same time, you are expected to take ultimate responsibility for your own safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction in the Kyrgyz Republic is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support they promised. In addition, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.
You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress most often comes after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. The Kyrgyz are warm, friendly, and hospitable, and the Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave the Kyrgyz Republic feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are willing to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Training is an essential part of Peace Corps service. Our goal is to provide you with the information you need to live and work effectively in the Kyrgyz Republic. You will receive training and orientation in language, cross-cultural communication, area studies, health and personal safety and security, and technical skills relevant to your specific assignment. The skills you learn will serve as a foundation upon which you will build your experience as a Volunteer in the Kyrgyz Republic. You will study either Kyrgyz or Russian, based on the language used most at your future site.
For your first two days in-country, you will stay at a training facility in Bishkek, after which you will move to the permanent training site located approximately half an hour outside of the capital. Once there, you will live with a host family in a rural village or small town with a few other trainees. While you and your fellow trainees will meet as a group, you will also have a chance to experience Kyrgyz customs on your own with your host family and on technical field trips. These experiences will help bring to life the topics covered in training and will give you the chance to practice your new language skills and directly observe and participate in Kyrgyz culture.
At the beginning of training, the staff will outline the goals and competencies you will need to reach before becoming a Volunteer and the criteria that will be used to assess your progress. Evaluation of your performance during training is a continual process that is based on a dialogue between you and the programming and training staff. The training staff will assist you in achieving the goals by providing you with feedback throughout the training process. After successfully completing training, you will be sworn in as a Volunteer and make final preparations for departure to your assigned site.
Technical training prepares you to work in the Kyrgyz Republic by building on the skills you already have and helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff, with the assistance of Kyrgyz experts and current Volunteers, will conduct the training program. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have to the community in which you will serve as a Volunteer.
Technical training will include sessions on the general economic and political environment in the Kyrgyz Republic and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review the goals and objectives of your project and meet with the Kyrgyz agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them. You will be supported and evaluated throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community. In addition to regular classroom sessions, you will be given assignments to work on with your community, school or organization. These activities will help you acquire many of the skills and experiences necessary to be an effective Volunteer.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance, they help you integrate into your community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings. The initial period of language study will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills further on your own. Prior to your swearing in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.
Although the prospect of learning a new language may seem daunting, Volunteers before you have been successful and many have learned to speak Kyrgyz or Russian fluently. Prior to leaving the United States, you will need to log onto My Toolkit on the Peace Corps website to download MP3s and corresponding language lesson manuals of both Kyrgyz and Russian to familiarize yourself with the sounds of the languages and give you a head start on some of the basics. Becoming familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet prior to your arrival can also help minimize some of the culture shock when you first step off the airplane.
As part of pre-service training, you will live with a Kyrgyz host family. This experience is designed to give you firsthand experience with the local culture and an opportunity for regular language practice, easing your transition to life at your site. Families have gone 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 the Kyrgyz Republic. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their initial 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, and non-formal and adult education strategies. You will also learn about Kyrgyz politics, history, and arts. The Kyrgyz people take great pride in their poets, writers, artists, and composers, so awareness of their cultural achievements is an important aspect of adapting to life in the Kyrgyz Republic.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You will be expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. Trainees are required to attend all sessions. The topics include preventive healthcare measures and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in the Kyrgyz Republic. Nutrition, mental health, alcohol-related issues, safety and security, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also covered.
Safety and security training will be provided throughout your Volunteer service and will be integrated into language, cross-cultural, health, and other training components. During 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 safety issues, and your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service. You will be expected to follow Peace Corps policies as well as country-specific safety and security policies and procedures throughout your service, and to report any safety and security issues to the relevant Peace Corps staff. You also will be trained to fulfill certain responsibilities that are part of Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic’s emergency action plan.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps provides Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. During service, there are usually two training events:
- In-service training: Provides an opportunity for Volunteers to upgrade their technical, language, and project development skills while sharing their experiences and reaffirming their commitment after having served for three to six months. This will also be a time to revisit pre-service training competencies, measure your progress, and reinforce competencies.
- 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 THE KYRGYZ REPUBLIC
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic maintains a clinic with two full-time medical officers who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available locally. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an American-standard medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Health Issues in the Kyrgyz Republic
Money for medical care and supplies is very scarce in the Kyrgyz Republic, and healthcare at local hospitals and clinics is not at the same standard as provided by similar-size facilities in the United States. Because of this, there are risks associated with taking medication in local facilities. Needles are often used repeatedly and improperly sterilized. In addition, pharmaceutical firms are known to pass on products to foreign consumers that they are unable to sell domestically, and local manufacturing standards are often inadequate. Volunteers should not receive injections or take medications unless they are administered by the Peace Corps medical officer or a facility approved by the Peace Corps.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in the Kyrgyz Republic, you will receive a medical handbook and a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. However, during training, 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 mid-service and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem, the medical officer in the Kyrgyz Republic will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in the Kyrgyz Republic, you will be medically evacuated to another country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage “An ounce of prevention ...” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in the Kyrgyz Republic is to take preventive measures for the following:
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These diseases include food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, pinworms, and typhoid fever. The medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in the Kyrgyz Republic during pre-service training.
Tuberculosis is present in the region, so it is advisable to stay away from people who are coughing constantly or show other signs of TB infection and to regularly ventilate your home and office. You will receive a skin test for tuberculosis prior to completing your service. Volunteers assigned to the southern region of the country will take malaria prophylaxis during a significant part of the year.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To 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. The 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 that you promptly report to the medical office for scheduled immunizations and that you inform the medical officer immediately of significant illness and injuries.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same confidential 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. If the Volunteer decides to continue the pregnancy, then this also has programmatic ramifications. 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.
As is the case for other prescription medications, women who take birth control pills should bring an initial three-month supply with them. Similarly, women should bring an initial supply of feminine hygiene products. Tampons and pads are available locally, but it may be difficult for you to obtain them during pre-service training.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit =
The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents =
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Emergency First Aid Book
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antifungal cream (Clotrimazole 1%Tinactin)
Aquatabs (Iodine water purification tablets)
Band-Aids, assorted sizes
Benadryl (Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg)
BugX (Insect repellent) stick
Cepacol Sepathoose lozenges
Electrol Plus, tablets
Hibiclens liquid soap (Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner)
Hydrocortisone 1% cream
Lip Moisturizer with sunscreen SPF15
Oral rehydration salts and Gatorade
Robitussin-DM lozenges (cough drops)
Pept Eez (Bismith Subsalicilate tabs / Pepto-Bismol)
Sterile gauze pads
Sudanyl (Pseudoephedrine HCL/ 30 mg - Sudafed)
Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30+
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Thermometer (Oral in Fahrenheit)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since the time you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility for service.
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 the 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.
Upon arrival you will receive a comprehensive vaccination program, which will include immunization against hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, poliomyelitis, measles/mumps/rubella, tick-borne encephalitis, tetanus/diphtheria, meningococcal meningitis, influenza and, for some individuals, pneumococcal.
If you wish to avoid 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 of the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment shortly after you arrive in the Kyrgyz Republic.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or non-prescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or 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 (not including sunglasses). 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 wearing contact lenses during your service to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
The Peace Corps will provide all necessary health care from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to post-service healthcare benefits. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.
The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information.
The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control.
Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.— with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: Assaults usually occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Vol-unteer was unaccompanied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
- Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
- Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
- Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
- Carry valuables in different pockets/places
- Carry a “dummy” wallet as a decoy Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
- Live with a local family or on a family compound
- Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
- Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
- Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
- Make local friends
- Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate cloth-ing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security; Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed.
After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff 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 Kyrgyz Republic as compared to all other Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA) region programs as a whole, from 2001–2005. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps’ classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What if you become a victim of a violent crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect.
Country directors and medical officers are required to report
all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at violentcrimehotline@peacecorps. gov.
Security Issues in the Kyrgyz Republic
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you must be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for becoming a target of crime. As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in the Kyrgyz Republic. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions, especially in large towns, are favorite work sites for pickpockets.
While the Kyrgyz Republic is generally a safe country, poverty and alcoholism have taken their toll on the population, and street crime is on the increase. In addition, ethnic conflicts between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz populations in the south flair up from time to time, and the Kyrgyz Republic has played a major role in international efforts to fight terrorism. There is a Coalition military airbase outside Bishkek that has been a major staging ground for the international forces fighting in Afghanistan. While there have been no threats against Americans or overtly expressed anti-American sentiments, as a safety precaution, the Peace Corps does not place Volunteers to the south and west of the city of Osh or along the borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. You need to adopt a lifestyle sensitive to host-country cultural norms and exercise common sense and good judgment to promote your own safety and reduce risks. In coming to the Kyrgyz Republic, do what you would do if you moved to a large city in the United States: Be cautious, vigilant, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense and street smarts, 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 the Kyrgyz Republic may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in the Kyrgyz Republic
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two years of 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. The Kyrgyz Republic’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic staff will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates are provided in Volunteer newsletters and in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network (Volunteer Warden system).
Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in the Kyrgyz Republic. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout your two-year service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Specific 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; appropriate housing arrangements; and other Volunteer support needs.
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic’s detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you must complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your home and to the Peace Corps office. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in the Kyrgyz Republic will gather at predetermined locations (primary or secondary consolidation points) until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, for the Peace Corps to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps staff. 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.
Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic has a very strict out-of-site policy. Peace Corps service is a 24/7 job. Therefore, Volunteers are expected to remain in their sites as much as possible in order to earn and keep the confidence and respect of their communities. The Peace Corps office must be informed of all out-of-site travel prior to your departure. For all out-ofsite travel, you must provide the post with detailed contact information, routes, itineraries, schedules, dates of departure and arrival, and, if relevant, the name of your local escort. Violation of the out-of-site policy is grounds for administrative separation.
DIVERSITY AND CROSS-CULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling its mandate to share the diversity of America with our host countries, the Peace Corps is making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In the Kyrgyz Republic, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, 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 the Kyrgyz Republic.
Outside of Bishkek, 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. 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 the Kyrgyz Republic, 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 will need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will be available to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in the Kyrgyz Republic
The Peace Corps staff in the Kyrgyz Republic 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 cultures, backgrounds, religions, ethnic groups, and ages and hope you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who support one another and take pride in demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Many female Volunteers find it difficult to adjust to the relatively conservative attitudes toward women in the Kyrgyz Republic. In many parts of the country, it is important to wear long skirts, cover one’s head, and not be seen smoking in public. The rules of dating and talking with men are throwbacks to the early 1900s in the United States, and what American women tend to think of as harassment may be an everyday occurrence in many places. Female Volunteers are constantly asked if they are married and, if they are over 22 and single, why they are not married when they are so “old.” Be prepared to be constantly reminded of your gender.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Volunteers of color face additional challenges inside and outside of the Peace Corps community. Within the Volunteer community, you may be the only minority trainee or Volunteer in a particular project. You may not receive, or be able to receive, the necessary personal support from other Volunteers, and you may not find minority role models among the Peace Corps country staff.
Once you move to your site, you may work and live with individuals who have no experience with or understanding of non-Caucasian American culture. Because of ignorance, stereotyped cultural perceptions, or the country’s current or historical involvement with other countries, you may encounter varying degrees of harassment in your day-to-day life. Hispanic and Asian-American Volunteers, for example, may be identified more by their cultural heritage than by their American citizenship. Consider the possibility of using an ethnic-nationality indicator such as Costa Rican-American, Venezuelan-American, Chinese-American, Korean-American as a strategy for conveying your dual ethnic heritage and American citizenry. For the most part, the question of “Where are you from?” really is an attempt to understand where your “family’s family” is from given your physical features. Further, you may not be perceived as being American, or you may be evaluated as less professionally competent than a white Volunteer. In any community in which you are not known, you may be treated suspiciously. Finally, you should be prepared to hear racial terms that would be completely inappropriate in the United States today. The word for a black or dark-skinned person in Russian is “negger” and while it is unlikely that a Kyrgyz is using the word as a slur, you will encounter this word used from in some areas. As a method of increasing local cultural competence, treat these encounters as teachable moments by making individuals aware of the more appropriate term African Amerikanskaya (this is the best term to refer to a Black person given the language limitations in both Kyrgyz and Russian).
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Respect comes with age in the Kyrgyz Republic. Younger Volunteers may have to work harder than their older colleagues to be accepted as professionals. On the other hand, older Volunteers may face challenges solely due to age. Most of the individuals in the Peace Corps community with whom you will work and live with are in their 20s and may have little understanding of, or respect for, the lives and experiences of senior Americans. In addition, the Peace Corps staff may not be able to give you as much personal support as you need, and you may be reluctant to share your personal, sexual, or health concerns with the staff. You may also find that younger Volunteers look to you for advice and support. While some seniors find this a very enjoyable part of their Volunteer experience, others choose not to fill this role. Training may present its own special challenges. Older trainees may encounter a lack of attention to their specific needs for an effective learning environment and may need to be assertive in developing an individual approach to language learning. Finally, dealing with family emergencies, maintaining lifelong relationships, and handling financial matters from afar may be more problematic for older Volunteers than younger ones.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Although the Kyrgyz Republic decriminalized homosexual acts between adult men by presidential decree in 1998, homosexuality is still sometimes considered immoral by local norms. Homosexuals certainly exist in the Kyrgyz Republic, but not with the same level of acceptance Volunteers may have experienced in the United States. Civil liberties may be ignored, and homosexuals may be hassled in bars or in the street. The Kyrgyz people’s view of homosexuality among nationals may be different from their view of homosexuality among foreigners. Certain hairstyles, clothing, and mannerisms, including earrings on men, which are considered acceptable in the United States, may be viewed with suspicion or derision in the Kyrgyz Republic. AIDS (SPID in Russian) is a critical public health issue in many countries, and gay American men have been blamed for bringing the disease to Central Asia.
Gay and bisexual Volunteers may serve for two years without meeting another gay or bisexual Volunteer. Fellow Volunteers may not be able to give the necessary support. Many Kyrgyz homosexuals have probably migrated to the larger cities, while most Volunteers are posted in rural sites. Although relationships with host country nationals can happen, as with all cross-cultural relationships, they are not likely to be easy. Lesbians, like all women, have to deal with constant questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex. Wearing an engagement ring may help.
For more information about this issue, you can contact a group of lesbian, gay and bisexual returned Volunteers at www.lgbrpcv.org.
Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Before committing to Peace Corps service, couples should consider how different degrees of enthusiasm about Peace Corps service, adaptation to the physical and cultural environment, and homesickness will affect their lives. Couples may have to deal with changed marital roles resulting from societal expectations in the Kyrgyz Republic. A husband may be encouraged to be the dominant member of the relationship, while a wife may find herself in a less independent role than she is accustomed to, which can create tension for a couple at work and at home. For example, a wife may be expected to perform traditional domestic chores instead of working, while a husband may be ridiculed for performing domestic tasks or for refusing to have extramarital affairs. Finally, a couple may need to cope with issues of competition if one spouse learns the language faster than the other or has a more satisfying job.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Although the Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and Tajiks in the country are predominantly Muslim, the “Russification” of indigenous ethnic groups and cultures has been significant. While there has been a resurgence of Islam in some regions of Central Asia, religion does not seem to play a dominant role in the political or economic life of the Kyrgyz Republic except in the southern region of the country. Volunteers are frequently asked about their religious affiliation and may be invited to attend a community mosque. Those not in the practice of attending religious services may be challenged to explain their reluctance, but it is possible to politely decline if the religious services are not of one’s own faith. Most Volunteers have found effective ways to cope with these issues and have come to feel quite at home in the Kyrgyz Republic.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in the Kyrgyz Republic, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In the Kyrgyz Republic, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. In addition, there is very little infrastructure in the country to accommodate individuals with disabilities compared with what has been developed in the United States.
As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, of performing a full tour of Volunteer service in the Kyrgyz Republic without unreasonable risk of harm. Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic 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.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to the Kyrgyz Republic?
Your carry-on luggage should weigh no more than 11 pounds in total, and your checked luggage—a maximum of two pieces—should weigh no more than 100 pounds in total. The combined dimensions should not exceed 107 inches (length width + height = 107) for checked pieces and 45 inches for carry-on bags. Adherence to these guidelines is necessary to minimize baggage-related problems during international travel. If you choose to ignore them, any charges for excess baggage will be solely your responsibility.
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.
Please check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for a detailed list of permitted and prohibited items at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/ permitted-prohibited-items.shtm.
What is the electric current in the Kyrgyz Republic?
The Kyrgyz Republic uses 220 volts, 50 cycles, and if you plug a 110-volt (the U.S. standard) appliance or radio into a 220-volt socket, it will be damaged and possibly destroyed. All 110-volt electronics equipment must be plugged into a 220volt to 110-volt wire-wound transformer. Transformers come in sizes from 50 to 2,000 watts and are rated for continuous or intermittent use. Most audio equipment will work with a small 50-watt transformer, but an intermittent-rated transformer may not last a long time with a CD or tape player. For equipment with a heating element, such as a hair dryer, you can probably use a solid-state voltage reducer, which is small and lightweight and has a capacity of 1,600 watts. Some electronics equipment may also work with a voltage reducer. If in doubt, ask the equipment’s manufacturer if you need a transformer or can use a voltage reducer.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in the Kyrgyz Republic. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their expenses. We discourage you from bringing a large amount of your own money; if you do, its safekeeping will be your responsibility.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects; Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase personal property insurance before you leave.
If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Additional information about insurance should be obtained by calling the insurance company directly. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in the Kyrgyz Republic do not need an international driver’s license. Peace Corps Volunteers are not permitted to drive cars or drive or ride on motorcycles while in the country. Any Volunteer who chooses to own or ride a bicycle or a horse must wear a Peace Corps-issued helmet while riding.
What should I bring as gifts for Kyrgyz 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; or photos to give away.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
The Peace Corps’ priority is to place you where there is the most need and where you can use your skills to the utmost and be effective and productive in your work. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour of another Volunteer. Most sites are located several hours from the regional capital. Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites until the last few weeks of pre-service training. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites and to finalize site selections with their community partners. You will have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For non-emergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580.
Can I call home from the Kyrgyz Republic?
International phone service to and from the Kyrgyz Republic is good relative to that of other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Telekom, the Kyrgyz telephone company, has offices in towns and cities throughout the country. However, international calls are very expensive (about $2 per minute), so some Volunteers make collect calls via an international operator. Many of the host families have telephones in their homes. If not, there is access to phones at hotels or post offices in all of the training communities. International calling is also available from local Internet cafes at very reasonable prices though the connection is sometimes spotty and calling hours awkward.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
The Kyrgyz Republic has cellular phone service, and key Peace Corps staff members have cellphones to attend to emergency calls. But because of the mountainous terrain, cellular service can be spotty. In addition, differences in technology make most U.S. cell phones incompatible with the Kyrgyz system. Local communication methods are reliable enough and are more compatible with the Peace Corps’ belief that Volunteers should live modestly at the level of their local colleagues.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Most Volunteers are at sites that do not have Internet access. However, many businesses and individuals in the capital and in some larger cities and towns have Internet access, and there are a growing number of Internet cafés. Due to the weaker telephone and electrical infrastructure in outlying areas, Volunteers in rural sites may be limited to sending and receiving e-mail on their occasional visits to the capital or regional hubs. Before leaving the United States, many Volunteers establish free e-mail accounts, which they can access worldwide.
Some Volunteers bring laptop computers with them and are happy that they did so. Laptops can serve as a valuable resource in successfully meeting the needs of your Volunteer assignment and provide a means of watching movies and listening to music; many Volunteers maintain their exercise routine by working out with videos 7played on their laptops.
However, the Peace Corps will not replace stolen computers and strongly encourages those who bring a computer to get personal property insurance. Because of the high value of laptops, owners significantly increase their risk of becoming victims of crime. Moreover, you probably will not find the same level of technical assistance and service in the Kyrgyz Republic that you would in the United States and any replacement parts could take months to arrive. Also note that gaining Internet access via your laptop is only a remote possibility—very few Volunteers have adequate telephone lines in their home or workplace. If you bring a laptop, be sure to buy a high-quality surge protector, as electrical lapses and surges are common. The Peace Corps is not obligated to provide you a site with Internet connection.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in the Kyrgyz Republic and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that each Volunteer’s 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 a 100-pound weight limit on baggage. The most important things to bring are yourself, a sense of humor, and a sense of adventure!
Dress is very important in the Kyrgyz Republic. The popular image of a Peace Corps Volunteer in sandals and a T-shirt with a university logo is not appropriate in this country (nor is military-style clothing or accessories). Fair or not, people are judged by the way they dress in the Kyrgyz Republic, more so than in the United States. Your colleagues will dress as professionals and for you to do otherwise will be considered disrespectful. If you come to work inappropriately dressed, your colleagues, students, and others in the community will probably not say anything to you directly but may talk unfavorably about you to others. Following the lead of your co-workers will help you gain acceptance and respect in your community. This does not mean that you need to spend a lot of money on new clothing. Rather, be selective in what you bring, and consider buying some of your professional clothing in Bishkek. The quality and style may not be equal to that found in American brands, but they are the same clothes your local colleagues will be wearing.
Luggage should be lightweight, durable, lockable, and easy to carry. Duffel bags and backpacks without frames are best because you will be hauling your luggage around on foot— there are no redcaps or luggage carts in this part of the world.
- Warm winter jacket (with down or Hollofil)
- Lightweight jacket
- Mix-or-match clothes for layering, such as solid-color turtlenecks
- Cold weather gloves and hat
- Long underwear—silk is lightweight, easy to clean, and warm
- T-shirts (without wording or pictures about controversial issues such as politics, drugs, and sex)
- One or two pairs of jeans
- Sports and fitness clothing, such as jogging pants (shorts are inappropriate in most places but can be worn in a gym or when running in a stadium)
- Hat or baseball cap for protection from the sun
- Underwear and socks for two years (locally available products tend to be of poor quality)
- Bandannas or handkerchiefs
- stocking cap/ski cap
- wool socks (at least six pairs)
Note: Avoid bringing white or light-colored clothing, as dust
and mud are ubiquitous. Additionally, the largest size of
clothing available typically is Large. Extra-Large or larger is not to be found here
- Sport jacket or suit
- Several pairs of nice slacks
- Several shirts with collars
- A few nice sweaters
- Several skirts or dresses with hems below the knee, for summer and winter
- Several nice blouses and shirts (short-sleeved tops are fine if modest)
- A couple of pairs of nice slacks (which can be worn as professional clothing in some places)
- A shorter skirt or dress for evenings out in Bishkek
- Nylons or tights (thicker ones are great for cold weather) Shoes
- Dress shoes—for men, loafers are practical because they can be slipped off easily when entering a home; for women, comfortable, low-heeled pumps are recommended; Volunteers who will be on their feet a lot might consider black sneakers that look like shoes
- Sandals and/or flip-flops (for both dress and use as shower shoes)
- Hiking boots or warm boots (either/or because they are heavy)
- One or two pairs of warm, waterproof winter boots, which both men and women often wear to work in the winter (great boots in smaller sizes are available locally for around $20)
- Extra shoelaces
Note: Shoes smaller than size 10 (men) or size 9 (women) are available locally, but larger shoes are not.
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- Enough deodorant, soap, and other toiletries to last you through pre-service training (many of the brands available in Bishkek will be familiar to you, but if you require specific brands, you may want to bring more); feminine hygiene supplies are available in local markets
- Soap carrier
- Fragrant powders, body lotions, or perfume (for when showers are scarce)
- Contact lens solutions, which the Peace Corps does not provide (if you wear contact lenses)
- Lip balm—although this is an item in the medical kit, you might want to bring your own brand
- A three-month supply of any medications you take, to last you until the Peace Corps can order refills for you Two pairs of eyeglasses, if you wear them (replacements can take a long time to arrive from the United States); consider bringing a repair kit
- Hand sanitizer—a large bottle and a smaller one to refill
- Antibacterial gel or baby wipes
- Spot remover or Woolite (for clothes that need special care)
- Fabric refreshener or odor remover (e.g., Febreeze)
- Favorite vitamins or nutrition supplements
- Tweezers, items for nail care, pumice stone, callus removers, etc.
You can buy most kitchen supplies in-country, but there are a few items that Volunteers recommend bringing:
- Lots of sealable plastic storage bags (you can pack stuff in them for the trip to the Kyrgyz Republic)
- Aluminum foil
- Basic cookbook such as The Joy of Cooking
- French coffee press
- Packaged mixes for sauces, salad dressings, and soft drinks
- Your favorite spices
- Artificial sweetener, if you use it
- Peanut butter
- Four passport-size photographs, which will be used by the Peace Corps and the Kyrgyz government for ID cards and visas
- Internal frame backpack or small overnight bag
- Luggage straps
- Bungee cords
- Sturdy water bottle (e.g., Nalgene)
- Small tool kit (wire strippers and phone repair tools are also useful)
- Swiss army knife or Leatherman tool
- Watch (durable, water resistant, and inexpensive) with extra batteries
- Battery-operated alarm clock
- Your favorite music (inexpensive cassette tapes of many popular recording artists are available locally)
- Your favorite DVDs (including workout videos) if you are bringing a laptop.
- Camera—35 mm compacts are best because they are more inconspicuous during travel (note that Advantix film processing and replacement batteries are not available locally)
- Batteries or rechargeable batteries and a re-charger with a converter for electronics (local batteries are expensive and not always of good quality)
- Key chain with flashlight
- A money holder that looks like a household item (such as a shaving cream can)
- Small, reliable flashlight
- Sewing kit
- Sleeping bag with stuff sack for traveling in cold weather
- Fleece throw/lap blanket for cold nights
- One bath towel and two washcloths
- Pillowcase (sheets and wool blankets are available locally)
- Laundry bag
- Duct tape
- American gifts
- Photos from home (picture sharing is important in the Kyrgyz Republic)
- Maps of the world and the United States
- Games such as playing cards, Uno, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, chess, and Frisbee
- Envelopes of various sizes, including padded ones (American-style envelopes are not available), stationary and pens
- U.S. postage stamps for mail carried by people traveling back home
- A two-year planner
- Musical instruments (if you play)
- MP3 or other portable music player
- Subscriptions to your favorite magazines
- A few books by your favorite authors
- Appliances—buying them locally may eliminate the need to bring a voltage converter; items such as irons, blow dryers, and boomboxes are available at reasonable prices
- Teaching materials (for education Volunteers), such as markers, chalk, erasers, magazines, simple children’s books and American music; you can also pack items for someone to ship to you later
- Interesting wall decorations (maps, posters, etc.)
- If you have a laptop, bring it (great for pictures, movies, entertainment)
- Bring copies of all financial and personal documents such as a Power of Attorney, birth certificates, passport and credit cards
- Graduate study materials (e.g., GRE, LSAT)
- A copy of the Peace Corps Handbook (provided in your Invitation Kit)
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 your passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain four passport-size photographs to bring with you to training.
- 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 necessary dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
- Arrange to bring a three-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while you are away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your healthcare during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have preexisting conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce. . Obtain and bring copies of school transcripts, diplomas, professional licenses, resume and letters of reference in case you decide to apply for employment or graduate school while you are overseas.
- Arrange to keep professional licenses from expiring during your service.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many states consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and bring 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 (these forms will be completed and signed by a member of the Peace Corps staff at staging prior to your departure).
- 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 your important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.