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For the official Welcome Book for Mali see here
PEACE CORPS / MALI HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Mali
In August 1969, Mali made a formal request for the Peace Corps’ assistance. That same year, a Peace Corps representative arrived in Bamako, the capital of Mali, to assist the government in planning Volunteers’ activities, primarily in the area of agricultural development. The first Volunteers arrived in April 1971 to help allay the hardships caused by a severe drought. Twenty-five Volunteers developed projects in poultry raising, vegetable production, water resources managemen and agricultural extension.Since that time, some 2,000 Volunteers have served in Mali.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Mali
Volunteers serve in six regions and in the district of Bamako. Peace Corps/Mali has Volunteers working in natural resource management, water resource management, agriculture or gardening, and small business development projects. A health education project was added in 1992, while the education sector was eliminated in 1995. In the 1990s, Peace Corps programming incorporated efforts aimed at achieving the government of Mali’s priority goal of food self-sufficiency and responding to other development needs.
Currently, about 150 Volunteers are addressing the priority development needs of Mali as identified by Malians themselves: food production, water availability, environmental conservation, basic education, small income generation, and preventive healthcare.
All Volunteers in Mali, whether working in health or other projects, are also involved in HIV/AIDS education.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: MALI AT A GLANCE
Malians take great pride in their ancestry. Mali is the heir to the succession of ancient African empires—Ghana, Mande (Malinke) and Songhai—that occupied the West African savannah. These empires controlled Sarahan trade and were in touch with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern centers of civilization.
The Ghana empire, dominanted by the Soninke or Sarakole people, was centered in the area along the modern-day Mali-Mauritania border. It was a powerful trading state from 700 to 1075 A.D.
In 1235, the Malinke people of the small state of Kangaba became involved in a struggle for independence. Their leader, a young man named Sundiata Keita, fielded an impressive army to meet the intruding Tekrur forces. The decisive battle was fought on a plain just north of present-day Bamako, and Sundiata emerged victorious. Building on this success, Sundiata established the Mali Empire, one of the great empires of that era. After his death, his successors continued the expansion of the empire in both wealth and territory.
The zenith of Mali’s power and prestige occurred during the reign of Mansa Kankan Musa from 1307 to 1332. Covering more than 3 million square kilometers, the empire centered around the great bend of the Niger River and dominated the profitable trade between North and sub-Saharan Africa.
The rulers of Mali and their followers were converts to Islam, and Mansa Musa became one of the legendary leaders of that faith. Tombouctou, the empire’s capital, became a center of Muslim scholarship, with a university containing libraries unequaled anywhere in Africa or Europe at the time. The Mali Empire began a slow decline after Mansa Musa’s reign but remained a power into the middle of the 16th century.
The Songhai Empire, with its capital in Gao, predominated throughout the 16th century. Its great builders, Sunni Ali and Askia Mohamed, were equal in historical importance to Sundiata and Mansa Musa. At its peak, under Askia Mohamed, the Songhai Empire encompassed the Hausa States as far as Kano (in modern-day Nigeria) and northern Cameroon. Timbouctou remained a center of commerce and Islamic faith throughout the period. The Songhai empire was destroyed in 1591 by a Moroccan invasion directed by Djoudder.
French intrusions into present-day Mali began in about 1854. It took approximately 50 years of battles and broken treaties for the French to finally subjugate the Malian people. The campaign ended with the capture of the Malinke leader Samory in 1898. Colonialism broke up traditional African patterns, replacing egalitarian relationships with those of dependence on European powers. It also set in motion some negative forces, such as one-crop economics, and established unrealistic political boundaries that have created significant challenges for today’s independent African governments.
Following Mali’s independence from France in 1960, the new government, under the leadership of Modibo Keita, moved quickly to place Malians in charge of all public institutions.
In November 1968, a group of 14 young Army officers led by Lieutenant Moussa Traoré (now General Traoré) formed the Military Committee of National Liberation and took over the government in a bloodless coup. Between 1968 and 1979, Traoré and his government endeavored to put Mali back on a rational development path, which led to a return to civilian constitutional government.
A new Constitution was ratified in 1974, and a national congress held in 1979 heralded the advent of the Democratic Union of the People of Mali. General Traoré was elected president of the second Republic of Mali in June 1979 and shortly thereafter a National Assembly with 82 deputies was elected.
On March 26, 1991, after several periods of unrest and mass demonstrations, Traoré was arrested along with several members of his family and government. A committee composed of representatives of civilian groups and the military appointed Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré as president for the transitional period while elections were organized. The committee selected Soumano Sacko to serve as prime minister. After the ratification of a new Constitution, democratic elections were held in the spring of 1992, and Alpha Oumar Konaré was elected president. He was reelected in 1997.
In 2002, Amadou Toumani Touré was elected president, continuing the democratic process he had begun in 1992 when, as a military leader, he handed over power to an elected president.
The government of Mali has struggled to address many problems, most notably the prolonged Tuareg rebellion.
Despite a 1992 peace treaty, clashes continued in the northern provinces of Tombouctou and Gao. Since 1995, however, there has been a marked decrease in Tuareg-related violence, thanks in part to former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s efforts to establish a lasting peace. The 1994 devaluation of the Malian currency, the CFA franc, together with a series of droughts, floods, and student strikes, lowered the standard of living of many Malians, putting pressure on the government to address the country’s development needs.
Mali is among the poorest countries in the world, with 65 percent of its territory consisting of desert or semi-desert. Economic activity is largely confined to land irrigated by the Niger River. About 10 percent of the population is nomadic, and some 80 percent of the labor force is engaged in farming and fishing. Industrial activity focuses on processing farm commodities. Mali is heavily dependent on foreign aid and vulnerable to fluctuations in world prices for cotton, its main export. In 1997, the government continued its successful implementation of an International Monetary Fund-recommended structural adjustment program that is helping the economy grow, diversify, and attract foreign investment. Mali’s adherence to economic reform and the 50 percent devaluation of the CFA franc in 1994 pushed economic growth to a sturdy 5 percent average between 1996 and 2000. Growth is projected to continue at this level, and inflation should stay below 2 percent. In 2003 the per capita gross domestic product stood at $371. The overall GDP composition by sector was 36 percent agriculture, 22 percent industry, and 33 percent services.
People and Culture
There are more than 20 major ethnic groups in Mali, each with a distinct language, geographic region, and social infrastructure. Approximately 50 percent of the population belongs to the Mande group, which include the Bambara, Malinke, and Sarakole. Other groups include the Peul (17 percent), Voltaic (12 percent), Songhai (6 percent), and Tuareg and Moor (10 percent). Ninety percent of the population is Muslim, with about 9 percent following traditional African beliefs and 1 percent practicing Christianity. Though the country’s official language is French, the most widely spoken languages belong to the Mande group, with 60 percent of the population speaking Bambara. Other languages, such as Fulani and Songhai, are also widely spoken in certain geographical areas.
Mali, a large country in West Africa, covers an area greater than New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas combined. It is landlocked, bounded by Algeria to the northeast, Mauritania to the northwest, Senegal to the west, Guinea to the southwest, Côte d’Ivoire to the south, Burkina Faso to the southeast, and Niger to the east. The country is mostly flat, except in the south, where the Futa Djallon highlands and the Manding Mountains rise; and in the east, featuring the Bandiagara plateau and the Hombori Mountains. Central Mali consists of flood plains of the Niger delta, while the northern part of the country lies within the vast Sahara Desert and is dominated by the plains of Tanezrouft and Taoudenni. These plains are covered by shifting sand dunes called ergs. Mali has two major rivers, the Niger and the Senegal.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Mali and to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it. If you do not have access to the Internet, visit your local library. Libraries offer free Internet usage and often let you print information to take home.
A note of caution: As you surf the Internet, be aware that you may find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to express opinions about the Peace Corps based on their own experiences, including comments by those who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. These opinions are not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government, and we hope you will keep in mind that no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About Mali
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Mali 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 site provides an additional source of current and historical information about 228 countries.
CIA factbook pages on Mali.
Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali.
USAIDs website containing information about their various activities in Mali.
BBC News country profile about Mali; contains links to current news concerning Mali.
Web site for the Malian Ministry of Culture
Connect with Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local Volunteer activities.
This site is known as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web Ring. Browse the Web ring and see what former Volunteers are saying about their service.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts of their Peace Corps service.
Join to stay in touch with current and former Mali Volunteers and their families
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer group dedicated to promoting an understanding of the people and culture of Mali and supporting the Peace Corps’ third goal—to bring the world back home—by encouraging members to share their experiences with their own communities.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Mali
University of Pennsylvania page with links to other sites of interest
A University of Iowa site set up by former Burkina Faso Volunteer Christopher Roy, an expert on Voltaic masks
An informative site with links to a variety of resources
International Development Sites
Information on the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
World Health Organization
- Bingen, R. James, et al. (eds.). Democracy and Development in Mali. Ann Arbor: Michigan State University, 2000.
- Chilson, Peter. Riding the Demon: On the Road in West Africa. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.
- Dettwyler, Katherine. Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1994.
- Else, David, et al. Lonely Planet West Africa. Oakland, Calif.: Lonely Planet, 2002.
- Eyre, Banning. In Griot Time: An American Guitarist in Mali. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.
- Hollyman, Stephenie, and Walter E.A. van Beek. Dogon: Africa’s People of the Cliffs. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001.
- Imperato, Pascal James. Legends, Sorcerers, and Enchanted Lizards: Door Locks of the Bamana of Mali. New York: Holmes and Meier, 2001.
- Lieve, Joris. Mali Blues: Traveling to an African Beat. Translated by Sam Garrett. Oakland, Calif.: Lonely Planet, 1998.
- Lucke, Lewis W. Waiting for Rain: Life and Development in Mali, West Africa. Hanover, Mass.: Christopher Publishing House, 1998.
- McLean, Virginia. The Western Saharans. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980.
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, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, Wash.: 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, N.Y.: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, Calif.: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
You should be prepared for a significant reduction in the frequency and reliability of communications with friends and family. It is a good idea to prepare your family and friends for the reality of lengthy delays between letters, the lack of regular access to a telephone, and uncertain access to e-mail.
The postal system in Mali is relatively reliable by African standards. Few Volunteers report problems with receiving letters and packages sent from the United States by airmail, but the mail can take three to four weeks to arrive. Surface mail is slightly less reliable, significantly less expensive, and takes much longer—six months to a year or more. Mail within the country takes a few days to two weeks. Volunteers can have important documents sent from the U.S. via DHL. Maintaining good relations with the staff at the local post office is can help to ensure timely receipt of the mail.
You can choose to receive mail at the Peace Corps office or at your site. Most Volunteers share a local post office box in their regional capital once they have moved to their sites. During pre-service training, mail should be sent to you at the Peace Corps office. Mail will be forwarded to the training site once a week.
Your address at the Peace Corps office will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
Corps de la Paix
Telephone service in Mali, like the postal system, is relatively reliable. However, Volunteers do not have telephones in their homes, whether they live in small villages or large towns. An expanding cellphone network covers most cities and large towns, and some Volunteers have access to a phone at their workplace. However, it is not appropriate to make long-distance calls from these phones. Most towns have commercial phone centers that offer phone and fax services, but outgoing calls can be expensive. Many Volunteers arrange times to receive calls from home. Peace Corps regional and transit houses have telephones from which Volunteers can receive but not make calls.
Volunteers are not permitted to use the telephones at the Peace Corps office to call family or friends unless the call pertains to an emergency and is approved in advance by the country director.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Use and ownership of computers are rapidly expanding, but primarily among better-funded government offices and wealthy individuals and companies. There are Internet cafés in Bamako and the regional capitals. Connection speeds are slow, but improving with growing demand and more private-sector entrepreneurs. Some of the commercial phone centers offer computer and Internet access on an hourly basis (around 1,000 to 2,500 CFA francs per hour), and this is the route by which most Volunteers access the Internet. It is also possible to use a laptop computer in a staffed phone booth to connect via modem to service providers in Bamako, though not all phone booth staff will allow customers to do this.
Radio and Television
Radio is by far the most important source of information and entertainment for the majority of Malians, and local radio also serves as a kind of bulletin board for people sending messages about everything from recent deaths to lost children or animals.
Housing and Site Location
The community to which you are assigned will provide safe and adequate housing in accordance with the Peace Corps’ site selection criteria. Housing is typically a small house made of mud or cement bricks with a thatch roof. Some Volunteers in urban sites live in cement houses with two or three rooms. Most Volunteers do not have running water or electricity; water comes from a pump or a well, and light is provided by kerosene lanterns or candles. Nearly all Volunteers are within one hour of another Volunteer and most are within 10 hours of the Peace Corps office in Bamako via public transportation.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers’ living allowance is approximately 105,000 CFA francs per month, not including the vacation allowance equivalent to $24 per month. Volunteers also receive a quarterly work-travel allowance ranging from $20 to $100, depending on the location of their sites. All of these allowances are paid in local currency and deposited directly into a bank account that each Volunteer must establish at or near their sites. The amount of the living allowance is based on an annual survey of Volunteers’ financial needs. Most Volunteers report that they can live comfortably with this allowance and have extra money for regional travel as well as occasional nights on the town. You are expected to live at the level of your Malian counterparts, so you are discouraged from bringing or receiving extra money from home to spend in-country.
Food and Diet
Water geneally needs to be treated through boiling, bleach treatment, or filtering to be potable. The availability of fruits and vegetables is somewhat limited, but Mali produces some of the best mangoes and papayas in the world. Garlic, onions, tomatoes, and a local type of eggplant are available year-round. Other fruits and vegetables, available seasonally, include oranges, grapefruits, bananas, carrots, cabbages, potatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers. Staple meals include rice and tô (a thick porridge made of millet, sorghum, corn, or yams), served with a sauce made from peanuts, okra, greens (i.e., spinach or baobab leaves), or tomatoes with meat or fish. French bread is available in larger towns and villages.
Paved roads connect regional capitals and large towns in Mali, and fairly well-maintained buses operate on a regular daily schedule. Smaller towns and villages are served by “bush taxis”—typically overcrowded and poorly maintained minibuses that do not run on a fixed schedule. Most Volunteers do not live near paved roads and thus do not have daily access to motorized transportation out of their villages.
Volunteers can choose between receiving a transportation allowance or receiving a bike to use for work and recreation purposes. Bicycle helmets are required. If you plan to use a bike, we encourage you to purchase a high-quality helmet in the United States. Peace Corps/Mali will reimburse you for the cost if you provide the receipt. The quality and selection of helmets available in-country are limited.
For safety reasons, Peace Corps/Mali prohibits Volunteers from driving motorized vehicles (such as a motorcycle) except in a life-threatening emergency. Moreover, Volunteers are not permitted to ride as a passenger on motorcycles.
Geography and Climate
Mali stretches across three climatic zones: savanna, steppe, and desert. The savanna features wooded grasslands broken occasionally by cliff and rock formations and is watered by the Niger and Senegal rivers and their tributaries. This area lies south of a rough line drawn from Kayes in the west to a point just south of Mopti in the east. The steppe, or the Sahelian, zone is between the savanna and the desert, stretching north from Mopti to roughly 50 miles beyond the great bend of the Niger River. It consists of dry, sandy plains sparsely wooded by trees. The third zone, north of these plains, is part of the Sahara Desert and is characterized by rocky outcrops dotted by vegetation and small villages wherever water is close to the surface. The harshness, vastness, and romance of the desert exert an influence that is felt throughout the country and has helped shape the culture.
Nomadic herdsmen and camel drivers inhabit the northern half of Mali, where they haul salt and other commodities from Taoudeni to Tombouctou and Gao.
The Sahel provides grazing land for more than half of the country’s 5 million to 6 million cattle. The savanna is the most densely populated and most heavily cultivated area, furnishing most of the cereal, cotton, and peanuts produced in Mali. The richest farming area is in and around the Niger River basin.
Mali’s climate is similar to that of Arizona. The rainy season extends from June to October in the south, but starts later and ends earlier as one goes north. The period between November and early March is characterized by moderate daytime temperatures, cool nights, and cloudless skies. In April and May, the humidity drops to about 10 percent, and temperatures rise to as high as 110 or 120 degrees Fahrenheit. June brings rains that slowly ease the intensity of the heat. The climate becomes hotter and drier farther north.
Social activities vary according to where you are located. They might include relaxing and talking with friends and neighbors, going to the market, or taking part in local festivals. The cultural diversity of Mali means that there is always something of interest taking place nearby from which you can learn, be it drumming and dancing or planting peanuts. Many Volunteers meet periodically in regional market towns to share ideas and experiences. But in keeping with its goal of cross-cultural exchange, the Peace Corps expects Volunteers to establish social networks with Malian friends and colleagues at their sites rather than seek out other Volunteers for social activities. Such networks enhance Volunteers’ ability to be effective in their work.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the biggest challenges faced by Volunteers in Mali is defining their role as professionals in the Malian context while maintaining a sense of their own work ethic and cultural identity. The tendency of Malian counterparts to blur (from a Western perspective) the distinction between professional and personal time and space adds another layer of complexity to the challenge of establishing yourself as a professional in this context. Cultivating work relationships is not something that happens only during working hours; behavior and activities outside the work setting will have an impact on your professional relationships.
Malians generally consider it important to dress appropriately whenever they are going to be seen in public—whether at work, in the market, or at a bar. It is almost unheard of, for example, for an urban Malian man or woman to wear shorts unless he or she is taking part in some kind of sporting event. Nor would a professional man or woman ever be seen in public wearing dirty, disheveled, wrinkled, or torn clothing, but for rural farmers this is not at all uncommon because expensive dress clothing would be easily ruined during a normal work day. Dressing appropriately - as a professional Malian would - will greatly enhance your credibility, improve your ability to integrate into your community, and increase your odds of having a safe Peace Corps service. Aside from following Malian norms for dress, however, Volunteers need to be aware of other unwritten rules of the culture, such as the fact that Malian women never go to a bar on their own. Serving in the Peace Corps often requires sacrificing personal preferences regarding dress and behavior. There will be ample discussion of this subject during cross-cultural sessions in pre-service training.
Peace Corps/Mali has instituted a dress code that must be followed by Volunteers, trainees, and staff at the Bamako office, the Tubani So training center, and at any function where a staff member, Volunteer, or trainee could reasonably be considered to be representing the Peace Corps. The code is also suggested for any Volunteer with an office-type work assignment, anyone attending a professional meeting, or attending a meeting with someone to whom one is expected (as per Malian mores) to show deference.
- Shirts with buttons, sleeves, and collars for men (must cover midriff)
- Shirts with sleeves for women (must cover midriff)
- Any kind of shoes or sandals (except rubber/plastic shower flip-flops)
- Long pants for men and at least mid-calf length for women (if worn by women they should never tight or transparent and best accompanied by a long shirt)
- Skirts (opaque and at least knee length), dresses, veils (dampe), Malian-style outfits for men and women), or boubous (robes worn by local men or women)
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Peace Corps 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 the local language and culture, and being perceived as rich 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 in Mali 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 Mali. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
How will living and working in communities affected by HIV/AIDS affect me?
The AIDS pandemic strikes across all social strata in many Peace Corps countries. The loss of teachers has crippled education systems, while illness and disability drains family income and forces governments and donors to redirect limited resources from other priorities. The fear and uncertainty AIDS causes has led to increased domestic violence and stigmatizing of people living with HIV/AIDS, isolating them from friends and family and cutting them off from economic opportunities. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will confront these issues on a very personal level. It is important to be aware of the high emotional toll that disease, death, and violence can have on Volunteers. As you strive to integrate into your community, you will develop relationships with local people who might die during your service. Because of the AIDS pandemic, some Volunteers will be regularly meeting with HIV-positive people and working with training staff, office staff, and host family members living with AIDS. Volunteers need to prepare themselves to embrace these relationships in a sensitive and positive manner. Likewise, malaria and malnutrition, motor vehicle accidents and other unintentional injuries, domestic violence and corporal punishment are problems a Volunteer may confront. You will need to anticipate these situations and utilize supportive resources available throughout your training and service to maintain your own emotional strength so that you can continue to be of service to your community.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction in Mali is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial constraints, inefficient management, and an often contradictory incentive system, 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. 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—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will have. 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 anywhere in the world—including disadvantaged areas in the United States—is slow work that requires perseverance. 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 Peace Corps staff, your Malian 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 Mali 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 work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.
PEACE CORPS TRAINING
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Training is an essential part of Peace Corps service. The goal of the eleven-week program is to give you the skills and information you need to live and work effectively in Mali. In doing that, we build upon the experiences and expertise you bring to the Peace Corps. The program also gives you the opportunity to practice new skills as they apply to your work in Mali. We anticipate that you will approach training with an open mind, a desire to learn, and a willingness to become involved. Trainees officially become Volunteers only after successful completion of training.
You will receive training and orientation in components of language, cross-cultural communication, development issues, health and personal safety, and technical skills pertinent to your specific assignment. The skills you learn will serve as the foundation upon which you build your experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Upon arrival in Mali, you will go to Toubaniso, the Peace Corps training center about half an hour outside of Bamako. After a brief orientation period, you will move into a host village within an hour of the training center. In the host village, you and other trainees (about 15 to a village) will live with a Malian host family for the majority of your training period, allowing you to gain hands-on experience in some of the new skills you are expected to acquire.
Training combines structured classroom study and independent study, with the maximum possible number of training hours spent out of the classroom. At the beginning of training, the training staff outlines the goals that each trainee must achieve before becoming a Volunteer and the assessment criteria that will be used to evaluate progress toward those goals. Evaluation of your performance during training is a continual process of dialogue between you and the training staff. After successful completion of pre-service training, you will be sworn in as a Volunteer and make final preparations for departure to your site.
Technical training will prepare you to work in Mali by building on the skills you already have and by helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff, Malian 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 Mali and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Malian 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.
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. Therefore, language training is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer.
Trainees initially focus on French and generally move on to study a local language once they have achieved the required level of French. Malian language instructors teach formal language classes five days a week in small groups of four to five people.
Your language training 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 being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your service.
The experience of living with a Malian host family is designed to ease your transition to life at your site. Families go through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of pre-service training and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Mali. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their training host families.
Cross-cultural and community development training will help you improve your communication skills and understand your role as a facilitator of development. You will be exposed to topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, nonformal and adult education strategies, and political structures.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You 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 medical sessions. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in Mali. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDS) are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces your risks at home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
- In-service training: Provides opportunities 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.
- 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 MALI
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Mali maintains a clinic with three full-time medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Mali at local hospitals and clinics. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported to a medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Health Issues in Mali
Major health problems among Volunteers in Mali are rare and are often the result of a Volunteer’s not taking preventive measures to stay healthy. The most common health problems in Mali are minor ones that are also found in the United States, such as colds, diarrhea, headaches, dental problems, sinus infections, skin infections, minor injuries, STDs, emotional problems, and alcohol abuse. These problems may be more frequent or compounded by life in Mali because environmental factors raise the risk or exacerbate the severity of certain illnesses and injuries.
The most common major health concerns in Mali are malaria, amoebic dysentery, hepatitis, meningitis A, C, W, and Y, and HIV/AIDS. Because malaria is endemic in Mali, Volunteers are required to take antimalarial pills. You will also be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, meningitis A and C, tetanus and diphtheria, typhoid, and rabies.
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 Mali, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training, you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter.
During pre-service training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical officers. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for shipments to arrive.
You will have physicals at midservice and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Mali will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Mali, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept considerable responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage “An ounce of prevention …” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Mali is to take preventive measures.
Malaria is a major health issue in most parts of Africa, including Mali. The most important step in preventing malaria and many other tropical diseases is to avoid mosquito and other insect bites. The best ways to avoid insect bites are to sleep under a mosquito net (provided by Peace Corps), wear long sleeves and pants whenever possible, use insect repellent, and be sure there are functional screens on your windows and doors. Mosquitoes bite primarily from dusk until dawn. Since no one can entirely prevent all mosquito bites, Volunteers in Mali must take antimalarial pills; failure to do so is grounds for administrative separation from the Peace Corps.
Many diseases 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, Guinea worms, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation for Mali during pre-service training.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV/AIDS and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from the medical officer about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let your medical officer know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met.
If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical officer in Mali will provide them. If you require a specific feminine hygiene product, please bring a six-month supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer will provide you with a medical 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
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Tinactin (antifungal cream)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your pre-departure orientation or shortly after you arrive in Mali. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth
control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, it will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. We discourage you from using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or 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 ususally occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompannied 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 clothing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security;
Information and Personnel Security; 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 provide 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 Mali as compared to all other Africa region programs as a whole, from 2000–2004. 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.
Security Issues in Mali
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Mali. 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 far less frequent than in Bamako and regional capitals; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Safety concerns in Mali follow.
A large percentage of crimes affecting Volunteers take place in Bamako, and they almost all fall into the general category of purse snatching or pickpocketing. You can avoid such incidents by taking taxis when visiting Bamako and by not carrying anything that resembles a passport pouch, fanny pack, or backpack. Use the same precautions you would use in any large city in the world.
Security incidents are less common in villages and small towns and typically involve petty theft from a Volunteer’s house while he or she is away. Such incidents can be minimized by establishing good relationships with neighbors, informing neighbors and friends when you are going to be gone, and locking all windows and doors.
Volunteers report various types of harassment, such as having objects thrown at them by small children, being called names, and receiving overt sexual comments. While sexual harassment of women is quite common, sexual assault is rare.
Alcohol consumption and cross-cultural differences in gender relations are often associated with sexual assaults. Just as in the United States, you can avoid some of the risk by changes in your own behavior. You will receive a thorough briefing on strategies for dealing with harassment during training.
Motor vehicle accidents are another risk in Mali because of crowded public transport and the lack of seat belts. Travel at night is discouraged. Safer options and further tips for avoiding transportation risks are discussed during pre-service training. Carjackings have been on the rise in northern areas of the country, but they are usually nonviolent, with an apparent motive of robbery and theft of the vehicle. Peace Corps vehicles and Volunteers have not been involved in such incidents.
Unlike other countries in the region, political violence and border conflicts have not presented security risks to Volunteers in recent years. Should you become the victim of violence, the medical office in Mali will be there to help you. It is important that you involve the medical office to receive appropriate care, including care for your emotional well-being.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Mali, do what you would do if you moved to a new city in the United States: Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Mali may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention both in large cities and at their sites, but they are likely to receive more negative attention in highly populated centers than at their sites, where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them. To avoid becoming a victim of crime, keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch, the kind that stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not walk in downtown Bamako at night—always take a taxi. Elsewhere, if you must walk, be sure to go with a companion. In addition, always carry Peace Corps identification (which you will receive in training) and emergency numbers for the Peace Corps office and staff.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer
Support in Mali
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for addressing safety and security incidents. Mali’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Mali office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be provided in Volunteer newsletters and in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Mali. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection is based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; different housing options and living arrangements; and other support needs.
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Mali’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 will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. For the emergency action plan to operate effectively, Volunteers must keep Peace Corps staff informed of their whereabouts at all times; failure to keep staff informed of your whereabouts at all times can result in administrative separation from the Peace Corps. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Mali will gather at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, in order for the Peace Corps to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to a Peace Corps medical officer. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
DIVERSITY AND CROSSCULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer 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 Mali, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Mali.
Outside of Mali’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and Caucasian. The people of Mali are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Mali, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Mali
Trainees from less represented groups should come prepared to cope with being one of a few or possibly the only senior, African American, Native American, Hispanic American, Asian American, gay, or lesbian in their training group because the group of Volunteers in Mali is currently fairly homogenous: relatively young, Caucasian, and middle class. Yet Volunteers from less represented groups serve with the same high levels of effectiveness and satisfaction as other Volunteers.
The Peace Corps staff in Mali recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Mali has a traditional, patriarchal society. Female Volunteers may be surprised by the extent to which community and domestic roles are defined along gender lines and how little control they have over this. Although women are becoming more visible, men generally hold positions of greater authority in the workplace, in the community, and in the home. This strong tradition can present challenges for female Volunteers, especially those in the agriculture and natural resource management projects, where they may be seen as taking on a typically “male” role. In addition, single women generally do not have the status and respect that come with marriage and motherhood. Thus, female Volunteers may find it challenging to have their ideas recognized and respected by both women and men.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Although Malian society can be conservative, Volunteers generally find Malians to be hospitable and accepting of people with a wide variety of backgrounds. Nevertheless, Malians may have preconceived notions of Americans based on the kind of information available in Mali about Westerners, which comes mainly from television, movies, magazines, and local news reports, which often represent a limited view of American diversity. For example, Asian Americans are often called Chinois (Chinese) regardless of their actual background, and African Americans may not be considered Americans.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Given their conservative values, homosexuality is not likely to be tolerated by the general Malian population. It will probably be impossible to be open about your sexual orientation and maintain a positive working relationship with members of your community. Other Volunteers and the Peace Corps staff will provide support, but you will find it very difficult to be open outside of that circle.
You can find more information at www.geocities.com/~lgbrpcv/, a website created by lesbian, gay, and bisexual returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Peace Corps recruiters can also send you a packet of helpful information.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
The high regard for seniors in Malian society lends support to senior Volunteers’ effectiveness at work. They, in turn, are able to find ways to use their extensive experience to assist their communities. However, seniors often comment that they feel a lack of camaraderie with other, mostly much younger, Volunteers. And the three months of pre-service training can be particularly frustrating for seniors because of the rigid schedule, classroom setting, and issues of integration with other trainees in the group. Language learning may present an additional challenge. However, most senior Volunteers find living and working at their sites to be very rewarding.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Volunteers do not report negative reactions from their Malian colleagues about their religious beliefs. The majority of Malians are generally very tolerant of religions other than Islam. Proselytizing by Volunteers is not permitted, and it is wise to avoid confrontations over religious issues.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Mali, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. There are few services available for people with disabilities and local support is likely to be inadequate to accommodate a physically challenged Volunteer.
As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Mali without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Mali 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 Mali?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The Peace Corps’ allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight allowance of 50 pounds for any one bag.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.
What is the electric current in Mali?
It is 220 volts, 50 cycles. However, not many Volunteers have electricity in their homes and where electricity does exist, power cuts and surges are common, putting a real strain on power supplies and voltage transformers or regulators. (The Peace Corps does not provide transformers or regulators.) For battery-powered appliances such as tape players and radios, we suggest D batteries, since these are readily available in markets. Many Volunteers use rechargeable batteries with a solar charger, which is a good alternative to disposable batteries.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. You will be given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover your in-country expenses and normal vacation costs. Some Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel outside the region. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. All banks require proof of purchase (i.e., receipts) to cash traveler’s checks. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, 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 and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. We discourage extended visits (i.e., of more than a few weeks), and you will need to take vacation time if hosting visitors requires time away from work. The Peace Corps cannot provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance. Because an evacuation in the event of a medical emergency can cost more than $25,000, all visitors should plan to purchase medical evacuation insurance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase such insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers are cautioned not to ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
If you plan to rent a car while on vacation outside of Mali, you may need an international driver’s license. However, you do not need such a license for Mali, as Volunteers are prohibited from operating motorized vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Travel to and from rural areas is by bus, by minibus, by bicycle, or on foot.
What should I bring as gifts for Malian friends and my host family?
Bringing gifts is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos or postcards from your hometown to give away.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a 10- to 12-hour drive from the capital. Peace Corps trainees are assigned to individual sites early in pre-service training, after Peace Corps staff has been able to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills. This early assignment allows trainees to focus on language needs particular to their site. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input about 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, 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 nonemergency 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 Mali?
International phone service to and from Mali is relatively good. SOTELMA, the national telephone company, has offices in all administrative towns. Calls to the United States cost approximately 5,000 CFA francs per minute, so most Volunteers prearrange calls from the United States or limit their calls to giving the party in the United States a number at which to return the call. U.S. calling cards cannot be used in Mali at this time, and calling collect is not possible.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
There are several cellular service providers in Mali. Service has been limited to Mali but network coverage is rapidly expanding. Peace Corps staff members with emergency responsibilities are equipped with cellphones. Differences in technology make most U.S. cellphones incompatible with the Malian cellular systems. For these reasons, we recommend that you not bring a cellphone with you. Some Volunteer purchase thier own cell phones after they arrive in Mali, although not all Volunteer sites are within cell phone network range.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
As mentioned in the Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle chapter, Volunteers do have occasional access to e-mail and the Internet. The decision of whether to bring a laptop computer depends on your own needs. Computers are not required for Volunteers’ work. Few Volunteers have electricity at their sites, and the Peace Corps cannot provide technical support or insurance for personal computers. You can use the computers available through Internet cafes and, for work-related purposes, the Peace Corps office. We do, however, recommend that you bring a jump or thumb drive to faciltate carrying documetns from one computer to another.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Mali and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight restriction on baggage. Do not bring valuables or cherished items that could be lost, stolen, or ruined by the harsh climate. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Mali.
Note: All invitees need to bring 12 to 15 passport-size ID photos to use in getting visas when you travel.
You can get almost everything you need in Mali. The things you cannot get here are:
- Music system (portable CD player or iPod/mp3 player, good portable speakers)
- Mosquito net tent (portable)
- Jump drive/thumb drive
- Durable shoes (both sandals like Tevas/Chacos or hiking boots)
- Good kitchen knife
Packing for training
Most of the information below is oriented toward your life as a Volunteer. However, it is important to remember that for your first two months you will be in training. While in training, your meals, transport and lodging will be provided. Be sure to bring enough appropriate clothing to last you for at least a week as finding time to do laundry during training will be difficult.
Both men and women.
- Two pairs of jeans or other pants in good condition (not too tight, too loose or too low cut)
- Three to five cotton T-shirts,
- A few pairs of socks (avoid white)
- Sweatpants and a sweatshirt or sweater (it can get cool)
- Lightweight rain jacket
- Cotton bandannas
- Baseball cap or broad-rimmed hat
- Clothing for sleeping in common areas (boxer shorts, pajama pants, tank tops)
Note that shorts are not worn by men or women in public except to play sports.
- “Casual dress” clothes: shirts with collars and slacks (preferably lightweight cotton)
- Two-week supply of underwear
- One dressy outfit and one tie for official functions
- One or two pairs of shorts for sports
- One slip (preferably cotton)
- A good supply of bras and underwear, including sports bras
- Two nice outfits for official functions (calf length or longer)
- Several dressy shirts
- Several nice, comfortable pairs of cotton pants
- One or two pairs of shorts or loose capris for sports
- Cosmetics, if you wear them
- Your favorite jewelry (but nothing too expensive or that you would be devastated to lose) Shoes
- One pair of sneakers or trail running shoes
- One pair of sandals or flip-flops (e.g., Teva, Reef, Birkenstock, or Chaco brand)
- One pair of dressier shoes (for more formal occasions— for women dressier flats are fine.)
A reminder about clothing: Malians, while not excessively formal, put a great deal of emphasis on a professional appearance. Dressing appropriately will greatly enhance your credibility at work, improve your ability to integrate into your community, and increase your odds of having a safe Peace Corps service. Men should expect to wear shirts with a collar and casual slacks; women should wear below-the-knee skirts and dresses or casual slacks with shirts that do not reveal too much of their chest or back. This means, for both men and women, no tight or see-through clothing that shows underwear lines, no outfits that show the knees when you are sitting down, and no ratty or worn clothing. There are communities in Mali where you are expected to be even more modestly dressed (i.e., covering arms, legs, hair). You are expected to dress appropriately at all times when you are in public. That said, it is fine to dress down when you are relaxing with other Volunteers or while you are at home.
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
The Peace Corps medical kit contains almost everything you will need, though not necessarily in the brands you are accustomed to. You may want to bring a two-month supply of the following items to use during pre-service training.
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Good razor and supply of blades (very expensive in Mali)
- Body lotion
- Special vitamins (multivitamins are provided by the Peace Corps)
- Allergy medication
- Tampons or sanitary napkins
- Two pairs of prescription glasses or contact lenses and solution
- Three-month supply of any prescription medication you take (including birth control pills)
- Nail clippers or nail care kit
- Heat rash powder
You can find almost any kitchen item in Mali. You will not need any kitchen supplies during training, so you may want to have any items you choose to bring sent to you later. Following are a few items to consider bringing.
- Good can opener or corkscrew
- Good frying pan (Non-stick is always nice, and bring a plastic spatula for it.)
- Dry sauce mixes and instant drink mixes (available in Mail but much more expensive)
- Favorite spices (e.g. Mrs. Dash, Italian seasonings, Mexican spices) Miscellaneous
- Sturdy backpacks (Day packs for work and bike rides; medium packs for short trips; large packs for long trips)
- Leatherman, Swiss army knife, or other multipurpose tool
- Alarm clock
- Batteries (Solar batteries may be a good alternative; AAA and C batteries are difficult to find in Mali)
- Two sturdy water bottles (e.g., Nalgene)
- A portable music player (e.g., Walkman/Discman/MP3, etc.) with minispeakers
- Plenty of your favorite music
- Anything from home that will make you feel more comfortable (e.g., pictures, posters, books, journals)
- Camera and film (200- and 400-speed film is hard to find locally) or digital with extra flash cards.
- Shortwave radio or WorldSpace satellite receiver (see www.worldspace.com)
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Loofah sponge
- One or two flat sheets and a pillowcase
- Combination lock (key locks are available in Mali)
- Duct tape (for fixing everything)
- Plastic bags (e.g., Ziplocs) and containers—to protect your camera, tapes, food, etc.
- Good scissors (hair-cutting scissors optional)
- Sturdy sunglasses
- Sturdy but inexpensive watch, preferably waterproof
Additional Items to Consider Bringing
- U.S. and world maps
- Travel games (e.g., cards, chess, checkers, Frisbee, backgammon, Scrabble, Monopoly, Taboo, Trivial Pursuit, Risk)
- Pocket-size French-English dictionary
- Musical instrument
- Digital thermometer
- Notecards, stationery, good writing pens, address book, books of U.S. stamps (Volunteers traveling to the United States can mail letters for you)
- Small toolkit (including vise grip)
- Light, highly compactable sleeping bag
- Eyeglass repair kit
- Your favorite movie on DVD or videocassette (there are DVD players and VCRs at Peace Corps regional houses)
Items You Do Not Need to Bring
- Heavy coat
- A large quantity of clothes (Malian tailors are talented and fabric is readily available, plus you can get used European clothing everywhere)
- Camouflage or military-style clothing
- A lot of language materials
- A lot of cash
- A two-year supply of toiletries
- Pots, pans, kitchen utensils, or cook stove
- Water filter (provided by the Peace Corps if needed)
The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone, and the list does not include everything you should make arrangements for.
- Notify family that they can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; after-hours duty officer: 202.638.2574).
- Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular passport.)
- Complete any needed dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
- Arrange to bring a 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. If there is a lapse in coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
- Purchase personal property insurance to extend from the time you leave your home for service overseas until the time you complete your service and return to the United States.
- Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender or loan service.
- Execute a power of attorney for the management of your property and business.
- Arrange for deductions from your readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.