Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Uganda
- 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
Few countries in the world offer the level of service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.S. standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration. Letters take a minimum of three weeks to arrive in Uganda if sent by airmail, packages even longer. Packages sent by surface mail can take six months or even longer. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Advise your friends and family to number their letters for tracking purposes and to write “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. If someone sends you a package, it is best to keep it small and use a padded envelope so it will be treated as a letter. Valuables should not be sent through the mail.
Despite the delays, we encourage you to write to your family regularly and to number your letters. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so it is a good idea to advise them that mail service is sporadic and that they should not be concerned if they do not receive letters from you regularly. This is especially true at the beginning, when you will be involved in an intense training program.
Your address during training will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
P.O. Box 29348
Volunteers in Uganda are allowed to receive packages containing work-related clothing and household items without paying customs fees for six months after arrival. Duty may be charged on food, cosmetics, electronics, and other items not explicitly for work purposes. After training, you will be extpected to establish a mailing address in the community where you are posted. Let family know that the address listed above will be a temporary one used during your first few months in Uganda.
You are unlikely to have access to e-mail or international telephone service during training. International calls can be made in some of the rural regional centers, but connections are unreliable and the cost can be high. Uganda has mobile phone services, and most Volunteers purchase cellular phones here. However, even with a cellphone, having to charge the battery, pay for airtime, and find an area with quality network coverage makes phoning home problematic. It is advisable to make clear to your family and friends that it is not easy to call the United States from Uganda. They should not expect regular communications from you, at least not initially.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
The Peace Corps does not recommend that you bring a personal computer, since few Volunteers have housing with electricity. If you choose to bring one, it will be at your own expense and risk. Securing it from theft may be a challenge.
Access to e-mail and the Internet is available at Internet cafes in Kampala, the capital, and in a growing number of towns outside Kampala. You are likely to have access to these occasionally, unless there is an Internet cafe near your site, which is rare. You probably will not have access during pre-service training.
Housing and Site Location
During your service, you will most likely live in a rural area in very modest accommodations provided by your host organization, which will try to provide you with at least a bedroom and a sitting room. You might live in part of a Ugandan family’s house or in part of a house built for staff of a school or a community organization. It is unlikely that you will share your accommodations with anyone else unless you choose to do so.
Living conditions vary according to the resources of the community or organization in which you are placed. Most houses do not have running water or electricity. You should expect to use a pit latrine and a kerosene lantern and stove. Most Volunteers hire someone to carry water to their house. The community may provide some basic furnishings, and you can supplement these with your modest settling-in allowance provided by the Peace Corps. At nearly all sites, the kind of privacy that most Americans are used to will be extremely limited.
Children may be around constantly, demonstrating their curiosity about you. You will have to adapt to a more public life.
As most communities and organizations have extremely limited resources, providing housing and furnishing is provided at a great sacrifcie. Sometimes there are delays in obtaining housing or furnishings. You might have to stay in temporary accommodations while your permanent housing is being set up.
Although the Peace Corps staff makes every effort to collaborate with communities to see that housing is ready for Volunteers when they arrive at their site, you should be prepared to gratefully accept whatever the community provides, no matter how basic.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer, you will receive a modest living allowance, paid in local currency, that will allow you to live on a par with your colleagues and co-workers. The amount of this allowance is based on regular surveys of Volunteers and the cost of living in Uganda. The allowance is paid quarterly into Volunteer bank accounts, so the ability to manage funds wisely is important. The current living allowance is equivalent to approximately $200 per month and is meant to cover the cost of food, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, reading materials, and other incidentals. You may find that you receive more remuneration than your counterpart or supervisor.
You will also receive a leave allowance of $24 per month (standard in all Peace Corps countries), which is paid in local currency along with your living allowance.
Current Volunteers suggest that you bring cash and credit cards if you plan to travel during your vacations. Only a few establishments in Uganda accept credit cards, so they are mainly useful for travel to other countries. The amount of cash you will need depends on the amount of traveling you plan to do while serving in Uganda (Volunteers earn two days of leave per month of service, excluding training). Some local banks offer ATM cards for local accounts. The exchange rate is approximately 1,800 Ugandan shillings to the U.S. |dollar.
Food and Diet
You will buy your food from outdoor markets or small shops, and you will generally cook for yourself. The local diet is basic but healthy, including a variety of fruits, vegetables, starches, and meats. There are likely to be some restaurants at or near your site, and imported food items can be found that, though expensive, provide an occasional treat. During training, there will be sessions on safe food preparation and proper nutrition. It is relatively easy to follow a vegetarian diet in Uganda after one becomes familiar with the local food. Most Ugandans will not be prepared to serve a vegetarian meal if you are a guest in their home, but will generally accept a sensitive explanation of your dietary preferences.
Volunteers travel primarily by foot, bicycle, or public transport. Public transportation to and from the nearest urban or trading center is available near every site, in most cases several times a day. Public transport is likely to be crowded, uncomfortable, and unreliable. To facilitate fieldwork,
Volunteers are either provided with a bicycle or given an allowance to purchase one. Still, many of the communities and job sites Volunteers visit may entail a long and challenging ride particularly on the single-geared bicycles most common in Uganda. Volunteers in the Education must be able to ride a bicycle in order to do their job. Please come to Uganda with this as an expectation of your work.
Peace Corps/Uganda prohibits the use of motorcycles by Volunteers because of the extreme safety risks that they pose. When using a bicycle, Volunteers must wear helmets (provided by Peace Corps).
Geography and Climate
Uganda straddles the equator, which means that the seasons are quite different from those in the United States. Rather than a hot season and a cold one, there are rainy seasons and dry seasons. Rainy periods generally occur in November and December and in April and May. The climate around Lake Victoria is greatly influenced by the lake. As a result, rain can occur there at any time. Midday temperatures are in the 70s and 80s (depending upon the part of the country) in all seasons, but evenings are cooler and may require wearing a sweater or light jacket.
The most common form of entertainment is socializing among friends and neighbors. Some Volunteers visit other Volunteers on weekends or holidays. Peace Corps encourages Volunteers to remain at their sites as much as possible to develop relationships with community members, but it also recognizes that they need to make infrequent trips to regional centers and to visit friends. Uganda has several rural radio stations, and many Volunteers bring shortwave radios so that they can listen to international broadcasts by the BBC, Voice of America, and Deutsche Welle. Some larger towns have cinemas as well.
You will find it easy to make friends in your community and to participate in weddings, funerals, birthday celebrations, and other social events. It is impossible to overemphasize the rewards of establishing rapport with one’s supervisors, co-workers, and other community members. A sincere effort to learn the local language will greatly facilitate these interactions.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Norms for dress are much more conservative in Uganda than in the United States, where we view our clothes as an expression of our individuality. Ugandans view dressing appropriately as a sign of respect for others. Wearing clothes that are dirty, have holes in them, or are too revealing sends the message that the people you are interacting with are not worth greater care. Dressing in neat, clean, and conservative clothes, on the other hand, can ease your integration into your new community and enhance your professional credibility and effectiveness in your assignment.
Many Ugandan men wear jackets and ties in professional settings. Blue jeans, T-shirts, and casual sandals are not considered appropriate in the workplace, during training, or during visits to the Peace Corps office. Women wear dresses or skirts with tops in both professional and nonprofessional environments; short skirts and low-cut or sleeveless tops are highly inappropriate, particularly in rural settings. Male Volunteers must wear their hair short and neat. Volunteers doing fieldwork generally should wash up and change their clothes before returning to a public area. When riding bicycles, women wear skirts or split skirts/culottes.
If you have reservations about your ability to adapt to
Ugandan norms of dress and appearance, you should reevaluate your decision to become a Volunteer. Working effectively in another culture requires a certain level of sacrifice and flexibility, and the Peace Corps expects Volunteers to behave in a manner that will foster respect within their communities and reflect well on the Peace Corps. Behavior that jeopardizes your safety or the presence of the Peace Corps program in Uganda could lead to administrative separation—a decision by the Peace Corps to terminate your service.
As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (often 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 Uganda Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Uganda. 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 Uganda is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Perceptions of time are very different from those in
America. The lack of basic infrastructure can become very tiring, and social demands on your colleagues may mean that their work habits vary greatly from yours. 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 great deal of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will have. You will often need to motivate yourself and others 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. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision—tempered with humility and the resulting respect for others—to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results. To overcome these difficulties, you will also need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, resourcefulness, and, most important, a sense of humor. Most Volunteers manage to exhibit enough of these characteristics to serve successfully. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Uganda feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and to focus on the community’s interests, your service is likely to be a life-altering experience.