Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Peru
From Peace Corps Wiki
|Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Peru|
|As a Peace Corps Volunteers, you will have to adapt to conditions that may be dramatically different than you have ever experienced and modify lifestyle practices that you now take for granted. Even the most basic practices— talking, eating, using the bathroom, and sleeping — may take significantly different forms in the context of the host country. If you successfully adapt and integrate, you will in return be rewarded with a deep understanding of a new culture, the establishment of new and potentially lifelong relationships, and a profound sense of humanity.|
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For information see Welcomebooks
We strongly recommend that you establish a regular and realistic communication pattern with your family and friends, so they do not become concerned if they do not hear from you for an extended period of time.
Most Volunteers find the Peruvian postal service (Serpost) to be safe and reliable, though it is slower than service in the United States. In general, airmail takes about two weeks to and from Peru. During training, you can receive mail at the Peace Corps office in Lima:
“Your Name,” PCT
Cuerpo de Paz
Calle Vía Láctea 132
Urb. Los Granados, Surco
Lima 33, Peru
Once you are sworn-in as a Volunteer, you will be assigned a regional post office box in a city convenient to your site. You are responsible for notifying your family and friends of your new address.
We do not recommend that people mail you packages. All packages over half a kilo (1.1 pounds) or with a declared value of $100 or more will be assessed customs duty fees based on the value of the items enclosed. This not only is costly but is a time-consuming process. We recommend that friends and family only send small items (e.g., one book or one cassette), and use padded envelopes.
Having items sent to you via a shipping company (e.g., FedEx, UPS) does not eliminate the requirement to pay customs fees. You may also be assessed a delivery charge. Shipping companies, however, may be a good way to receive important documents with no intrinsic value.
It is not advisable for your family or friends to send you money by cash or check. ATM machines are common in Peru, and many accept U.S. ATM cards. Your family can deposit money for you in your U.S. account, and then you can access the money via an ATM. Similarly, e-tickets are a safer option than having paper airline tickets mailed to you.
We request that your family not send money for your community or for the project in which you are involved. Once you are at your site, you and Peace Corps staff members can determine the most appropriate way to access outside resources, should they be needed.
Should you and Peace Corps staff determine that it is advisable to seek outside funding for a project in your community, one alternative is the Peace Corps Partnership Program, through which family members and other private individuals and firms may donate funds through Peace Corps and receive a tax deduction. More information may be found on the Peace Corps website, www.peacecorps.gov, or at 800.424.8580, ext. 2170
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
All major cities and many smaller communities in Peru have Internet locations. You may or may not have access to the Internet at your site, but if not, you will be able to access the Internet and send and receive e-mails in your regional capital for a reasonable hourly rate. In addition, the Peace Corps office in Lima has Internet-accessible computers available for Volunteer use.
International phone service to and from Peru is relatively good. Some Volunteers have telephone access in their homes and/or work facilities. When that is not the case, there is usually access to a community telephone. There are inexpensive local and international calling cards available in Peru that provide affordable rates. International long-distance calls without a calling card can be expensive.
The cellular telephone network in Peru is expanding rapidly. Most Volunteers live in communities with cellular service, or have cellular service not far away. Peace Corps does not provide cellphones or cellphone service to Volunteers, but does arrange for Volunteers to participate in a low-cost group plan. Almost all Volunteers participate in the plan.
Housing and Site Location
During training, you will live with a Peruvian family near the training facility. Sharing meals, conversation, and other experiences with your host family is an important step in developing the skills and attitudes that will help you fully integrate into your host community.
For months prior to your arrival, the associate Peace Corps director (APCD) for your sector will be exploring potential assignments with counterpart agencies, local municipal authorities, and community leaders. Peace Corps strategic goals, counterpart agency goals, local interest, and the perception that a Volunteer can be successful at the site are all factors that are considered. Assignments may be in a major city, a mid-sized town, a small town, or a rural village.
You will be matched to one of these assignments based on your specific background and experience. While you will have an opportunity to discuss geographic preferences with your APCD during training, the final decision will be based on the best match between your skills and community needs.
All Volunteers in Peru are required to live with a family during their entire service. Living with a family may require adjustments that some North Americans find difficult, given our cultural values concerning privacy and personal space. The benefits of this policy, however, far outweigh any negatives. Living with a Peruvian family allows you to quickly integrate into the community and greatly enhances your safety and security. In addition, your language and cross-cultural skills will be reinforced daily.
Housing is usually made of cement or adobe blocks, sometimes covered with stucco. Roofs are made of tile, corrugated tin, or thatch. You will have your own room, which may be within the larger house or a separate room within a family compound. You will likely have electricity and occasional running water, although not all Volunteers do. You will have access to either indoor plumbing or a latrine.
Living Allowance and Money Management
All Volunteers receive a monthly living allowance, paid in Peruvian currency, that enables them to maintain a modest but safe, healthy, and adequate lifestyle. The living allowance is reviewed once a year to ensure that it is sufficient to meet basic needs, and is adjusted by Peace Corps if necessary. Living allowances in Peru vary by site, but tend to be around $300 (U.S.).
Three additional allowances are provided to Volunteers. First, Volunteers receive the equivalent of $24 in Peruvian currency each month to help with vacation expenses. Volunteers accrue two days of vacation leave for each month of service. Second, after taking the oath of service, each Volunteer receives a onetime settling-in allowance, the equivalent of $200, to cover the initial expenses of furnishing a room and purchasing basic supplies. Finally, the Peace Corps sets aside $225 for each month of service, which is available on completion of service. This readjustment allowance permits returning Volunteers to resettle in the United States without undue burden. The living allowance, vacation allowance, and settling-in allowance are deposited in Volunteers’ local bank accounts, which can be accessed via ATMs.
As a Volunteer, your effectiveness depends in large measure upon living at the level of the people in your community. We encourage you not to rely on gifts or savings from home to supplement your monthly living allowance. That said, you may wish to tap savings for extraordinary expenses or for travel during vacations. ATM cards from most U.S. financial institutions are readily accepted at ATM machines in all larger communities. U.S. credit cards are also widely accepted.
Food and Diet
Your diet will vary according to your site location. While each region has its traditional foods and specialties, potatoes, rice, and pasta are part of the diet everywhere. Many Volunteers take all or most of their meals with their host family. Others make arrangements with another family, rotate among families in their community, or prepare their own meals.
It can be challenging to maintain a strictly vegetarian diet during Peace Corps service because of community customs. Nonetheless, many Volunteers have been able to maintain a vegetarian diet successfully, and one Volunteer has even prepared a vegetarian cookbook using locally available Peruvian ingredients.
Public transportation varies widely, depending on the site. Volunteers living in or visiting cities use taxis, minivans, and three-wheeled mototaxis. Most smaller communities where Volunteers live have regular bus service to and from the community, which can vary from several times a day to just once or twice a week. Roads, however, are often unpaved, and the buses may be slow and unreliable. Most Volunteers are within an hour (by foot or regular ground transportation) from another Volunteer’s site. Volunteers not assigned to a city or large town are usually within three or four hours by bus from one.
As a Volunteer, you will be responsible for arranging your personal and work-related travel and for transporting personal belongings, supplies, and project-related equipment to and from your site. For Volunteer safety, Peace Corps requires that Volunteers use only certain carriers which have good safety records on long-distance bus routes. Your living allowance is calculated to cover your transportation needs.
Bus travel in Peru is often long and arduous. It is not uncommon for Volunteers to be 12 to 16 hours from Lima. Roads are often dusty, and significant elevation changes and temperature fluctuations are common. Volunteers must be willing and able to adjust to such conditions.
Volunteers in Peru may not operate motor vehicles during their service, including motorcycles. Volunteers in Peru may not be passengers on motorcycles. Riding on a motorcycle is grounds for administrative separation.
In many areas, both urban and rural, conditions are difficult for bicycle riders. Streets and roads are bumpy and narrow, and unexpected hazards (e.g., potholes, uncovered manholes) are commonplace. Motor vehicle operators show little respect for bicycle riders.
In some sites, however, Volunteers find that bicycles are an excellent means of transportation, especially when their jobs require them to be at multiple locations. Peace Corps provides bicycles to some Volunteers, while others purchase their own bicycles. In all cases, Volunteers must wear Peace-Corps-issued helmets when riding bicycles. Volunteers are responsible for the cost of all bicycle maintenance and repair.
Geography and Climate
Three times the size of California, Peru boasts outstanding biological and geographic diversity, ranging from stark desert bordering the Pacific to productive highland valleys to treeless plains surrounding snow-covered peaks to tropical jungle lowlands.
The arid coastal desert is interspersed with irrigated agricultural zones that support prosperous towns and fishing villages. The highland valleys are characteristically temperate and provide fertile soils. The alternating hills and flatlands of the sierra are punctuated with breathtaking, snow-covered mountain peaks that reach more than 20,000 feet. The lowlands offer steamy forests and swamps, along with high humidity and tropical downpours.
Though the coast is arid, it is marked by high humidity year-around. During the winter season (May-November), much of the coastal plain is overcast and chilly. During the summer (December-April), skies clear, and temperatures can get quite hot.
In the sierra, seasons are defined more by rainfall. The rainy season is generally November through March. The driest months are May through September. In both seasons, temperatures during the day are moderate, while nights are cool.
Lima, the capital, is a large, cosmopolitan city on the coast that offers a blend of colonial history, the challenges of any big city, extremes of wealth and poverty, and the amenities and cultural life of a major capital.
Most social activities revolve around daily and special events in the community, including religious holidays and processions. Volunteers are often invited to join family and community events such as birthday parties and sports activities, or just to chat over coffee.
Integrating into your community is the key to an enjoyable and rich experience as a Volunteer. By building solid relationships— through both your work assignment and interaction with Peruvian neighbors and other community members—you will have greater opportunities to participate in social activities.
You will need to develop a keen awareness of Peruvian culture and customs. Many celebrations and other social events include significant alcohol consumption. In the interest of safety, you will have to exercise careful judgment when under social pressure to drink.
The Peace Corps prohibits the use of all illegal drugs, including marijuana, by Peace Corps Volunteers and trainees. The government of Peru, with the support of the United States, has taken a strong stand against the illegal cultivation of coca and the use of illegal drugs. It has passed stringent anti-drug laws that mandate stiff prison sentences for possession and use of drugs. Any invitee who feels compelled to use illegal substances should not accept an invitation to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Professionalism, Dress, and Appearance
Peruvians take great pride in being neat, clean, and well-groomed, and Volunteers should follow the example of Peruvians at their work site and in their community. Inappropriate dress or grooming is considered disrespectful, may make Peruvians less receptive to you, and may single you out and put you in danger.
During training, and occasionally as a Volunteer, there will be times when it is appropriate for men to wear jackets and ties and for women to wear dresses or slacks and a blouse. In classroom and office settings in cities and larger towns, attire should be professionally casual—skirts or slacks for women, slacks and button-down shirts with collars for men. Work clothes at field or rural sites will be more informal—for example, men and women may wear jeans and boots. Clothes should always be neat and clean.
The climate impacts dress significantly. In warmer areas, men will wear short-sleeved shirts and women sleeveless blouses and dresses. In colder areas, men and women wear sweaters and jackets. It is best to bring a variety of clothing that can be layered.
Shorts are generally worn only in the home, at the beach, or in other informal settings, not on the street. Piercings, other than pierced ears for women (one per ear), are uncommon and may make the Volunteer an unwanted source of attention. The same goes for visible tatoos. It is preferable that male Volunteers not have ponytails, long hair, or beards, but if so, hair must be neatly groomed, and beards must be neat and trimmed.
Being a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, having a less-than-perfect understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Although most Volunteers complete their two years of service in Peru without any personal security incidents, petty thefts and burglaries do occur, and incidents of physical and sexual assault have occasionally occurred. The Peace Corps has established procedures, policies, and training designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. At the same time, you are expected to take the primary responsibility for your safety and well-being. More information on these topics can be found in the Health Care and Safety chapter.
Rewards and Frustrations
It takes sensitivity and effort to establish your credibility, both as a professional and as a member of your community. With most Peruvians, you will need to develop friendly social relations before you can proceed with satisfactory work relations. Volunteers in Peru must demonstrate flexibility and maturity, the ability to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity, an optimistic attitude, and a sense of humor.
Successfully addressing the challenges of Peace Corps service depends in large part on the attitude of the individual Volunteer. Some common occurrences that you may find annoying or frustrating include having to repeatedly explain your role as a Volunteer, limited technical support from your counterparts, numerous delays during the course of your work and daily life, lack of privacy, gossip about you, and perceptions that you are a wealthy foreigner.
Other frustrations faced by Volunteers result from inadequate infrastructure, including poor roads, infrequent and unreliable public transportation, poor communications, and lack of access to water and sanitation facilities. Volunteers also may get bothered by community health and hygiene practices, antiquated educational approaches, and an inappropriate dependence on external resources.
On the other hand, there are few more enriching experiences than living and working in a new culture, interacting with people different from you, developing an awareness of diverse values, and helping others to better their lives. Volunteers find that the rewards of Peace Corps service far outweigh the challenges. Most Volunteers report a high level of personal satisfaction in developing new technical and language skills, discovering formerly untapped personal strengths and abilities, broadening their global perspective, deepening their cultural understanding, and helping others live happier, healthier, more productive lives.