Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Belize
- 1 Communications
- 2 Housing and Site Location
- 3 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 4 Food and Diet
- 5 Transportation
- 6 Geography and Climate
- 7 Social Activities
- 8 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 9 Personal Safety
- 10 Rewards and Frustrations
Peace Corps/Belize recommends sending letters via airmail, which generally arrive within two weeks. Surface mail can take months. During training, you will receive mail through the Peace Corps office.
When you become a Volunteer and are assigned to a site, you will be responsible for sending your new mailing address to family and friends.
During your first six months in Belize, any packages you receive will be exempt from duty fees. After this period, you will be responsible for paying any duty on packages.
There are other options for having items such as airline tickets or small items sent to you. Small, padded envelopes are best for items weighing less than two pounds, as they are less likely to be opened and taxed than boxes. In addition, people can ship you packages using express mail services such as FedEx and DHL. The Peace Corps office accepts international express mail for Volunteers.
International telephone service in Belize is good and covers most of the country. However, it is expensive, so Volunteers typically call the United States collect. Volunteers are not permitted to use telephones at the Peace Corps office to call family and friends unless the call pertains to an emergency and is approved in advance by the country director.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Some Volunteers bring laptop computers to Belize. Before deciding to bring your laptop, you should consider that satisfactory maintenance and repair services may not be available. Moreover, if you are assigned to a rural site, there may not be electricity. If the Belizean agency you work with owns a computer, you may be able to arrange access for work-related or personal use. The Peace Corps office in Belize City has two computers, one in its resource center and another in the Volunteer lounge, both with Internet access and both available for Volunteer use. In addition, Belize City and most of the district towns have Internet cafes. In general, Internet service is available wherever there is telephone service. So this is telling us that the Urban area is a better place to volunteer your service here in Belize.
Housing and Site Location
Once you have been assigned to a site, you will spend the first three months living with a host family. This will accelerate your language skills and provide a safe, welcoming environment to begin learning about Belizean culture. After three months, you may decide to stay with your host family or you may decide to move into an apartment or house of your own. Once you have identified safe and adequate housing that you can afford with the Peace Corps’ living allowance, Peace Corps staff will check your housing to ensure that it fulfills the Peace Corps’ site selection criteria (see the chapter on Health Care and Safety for further information). Volunteer housing ranges from one-room houses to small bungalows with bath and latrine facilities. Houses generally have electricity, but may or may not have running water and inside toilets. You will have to be very flexible in your housing expectations as there is no guarantee that electricity or running water will be available. Most Volunteers live in towns with populations of 4,000 to 20,000. A few Volunteers live in Belize City, and some live in small rural communities. Wherever you live, Peace Corps staff will visit you on occasion to provide personal, medical, and professional support.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer in Belize, you will receive four types of allowances: a living allowance, a one-time settling-in allowance (for setting up your household when you move to your site), a travel allowance, and a leave allowance. The country director reviews the allowances at least once a year through a Volunteer survey to ensure that they reasonably cover Volunteers’ expenses. Most Volunteers find that they can live comfortably in Belize with these allowances.
The Peace Corps strongly discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with money from home because Volunteers are expected to live at the same economic level as their Belizean neighbors and colleagues. However, many Volunteers bring money (in U.S. dollars or traveler’s checks) for out-of-country travel. Belizeans increasingly are using credit cards, so they are useful for vacations, especially if there is a reliable person back home who can make payments for you.
Food and Diet
The diet in Belize is composed mainly of carbohydrates (i.e., rice) and protein (i.e., beans and meat). Belize also produces a variety of fruits and vegetables. Potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, bananas, and oranges are inexpensive and readily available year-round. Imported produce, such as cauliflower, broccoli, beets, Brussel sprouts, nectarines, and peaches, are typically more expensive. You will find a wider variety of vegetables in cities than in rural areas.
The main meats in Belize are chicken, beef, and pork. Many Belizeans also eat fish, which can be purchased at local markets and supermarkets. Lobster and shrimp are also available but are expensive. Canned meats, crab, salmon, and sardines are sold at local grocery stores.
Depending on the size of your community, you should be able to purchase basic foods such as butter, eggs, cheese, vegetable oil, and milk locally. Imported cheeses, yogurt, and other perishable items may only be available in cities.
Most Belizean housewives bake their own Creole bread, a tasty and rich white bread that is often served with tea. Breads, biscuits, and pastries are also available in supermarkets. Because Belizeans are only now becoming aware of the nutritional value of whole-wheat baked goods, these products are just becoming available and tend to be costly.
Vegetarians will have to be creative to maintain a balanced diet because of the limited number of fruits and vegetables available year-round. They will also face limited choices in local homes and restaurants. Belizeans tend to incorporate meat into their dishes, and therefore may find catering to a vegetarian challenging. We encourage vegetarians to bring a cookbook with their favorite recipes.
Most Volunteers use bicycles to get around in their communities. You will receive funds to purchase a bicycle and helmet as part of the settling-in allowance. Volunteers must wear helmets whenever they ride on bicycles. The Peace Corps prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on two- or three-wheeled motorized vehicles and from owning or driving private cars. Violation of these policies can result in the termination of your Volunteer service. Most Volunteers travel around the country on commercial bus lines.
Geography and Climate
Belize’s typical weather report is “hot, humid, and a chance of thunderstorms,” but Volunteers generally adjust to the climate quickly. Since Belize is a small country—at 8,866 square miles, it is about the size of New Hampshire—there is little variation in temperature or humidity. The rainy season usually occurs from June to January, while the dry season lasts from February to May.
Belize remains largely undeveloped and unspoiled. More than 50 percent of its land is designated as nature reserves. While much of the wildlife population in neighboring countries has long since been lost, the dense forest of Belize remains a refuge for jaguars, tapirs, crocodiles, and birds. The land is mostly flat, with the exception of Maya Mountain, which rises to 3,630 feet (1,100 meters) at its highest point in the south-central region along the Guatemalan border.
Social activities will vary depending on where you are located. They might include taking part in local festivities, storytelling, and dances. Some Volunteers visit nearby Volunteers on weekends or make an occasional trip to Belize City. In addition to the snorkeling and diving opportunities at nearby islands and at the world’s second largest barrier reef, the country offers Mayan ruins and wildlife reserves to explore. In spite of these attractions, Peace Corps/Belize encourages Volunteers to spend as much time as they can at their sites to accomplish the Peace Corps’ second goal of cultural exchange.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
The people of Belize take pride in their personal appearance. To gain the acceptance, respect, and confidence of rural, urban, and government workers, it is essential that you dress and conduct yourself properly. Inappropriate dress, like inappropriate behavior, is something that sets a Volunteer unnecessarily apart from his or her community. Women should wear modest skirts, nice slacks or dresses for professional activities (except for physical labor), and men should wear slacks for most activities.
The Peace Corps expects you to behave in a way that will foster respect for you in your community and reflect well on the Peace Corps and on 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 need to be aware that behavior that jeopardizes the Peace Corps’ mission in Belize or your personal safety cannot be tolerated by the Peace Corps and may result in the termination of your service. Pre-service training will include an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most 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 Belize. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction in Belize 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 their practices and traditions. 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 will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work. You will often find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your co-workers with little guidance from supervisors. 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 only after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. Belizeans 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 Belize feeling that they have gained much more than they gave during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.