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For the official Welcome Book for Mauritania see here




History of the Peace Corps in Mauritania

The Peace Corps began working in Mauritania in 1967. Since then, more than 1,100 Peace Corps Volunteers have completed two years of service, working in the core sectors of education, health and water sanitation, agriculture, and small business development. Early interventions were aimed at building roads, bridges, and dams; improving health; and teaching English, math, and physics. The foundations for the current program were laid in the 1980s, when Volunteers began to work in agriculture and environmental conservation, cooperatives, and health and Guinea worm eradication. In the 1990s, the agriculture and environmental conservation projects merged to form what is now the agroforestry project, while the cooperatives and the health and Guinea worm projects were expanded to become small business development and community health and water sanitation, respectively. In 2000, Peace Corps/Mauritania reopened the English language instruction program and created environmental education as an additional project. There are currently 100 Volunteers working in the country.

History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Mauritania

Peace Corps/Mauritania works in six primary areas: Health and water sanitation, education (teaching English and girls’ education), agroforestry, environmental education, small enterprise development, and information and communication technologies. Each of these projects was chosen based on needs expressed by both the government of Mauritania and local communities.

Volunteers in health are working to improve the health of rural populations by giving these communities the skills necessary to reduce the incidence of water-borne and hygiene-related diseases. Specific projects include promoting community health education and training village-based health agents.

Education Volunteers teach English to Mauritanian students in middle and high schools as their primary assignment. They also work to improve the quality of education in Mauritania by working with host-country national teachers to do peer coaching, design teaching materials, and set up lesson plan banks. Volunteers are also involved in community development through outreach activities, cross-sector collaboration, and individual Volunteer initiatives.

Curriculum design and teacher-training specialists assist partner institutions in the conception, production, and use of appropriate teaching materials. They also help revise existing syllabi and textbooks and work with partner institutions to devise training modules to upgrade the teaching skills of host-country teachers.

Volunteers in the agroforestry project are part of an integrated development effort that is improving agriculture and forestry practices throughout rural Mauritania. More specifically, Peace Corps Volunteers are attempting to improve the capacity of local farmers in selected oases and villages to produce nutritious food, for both consumption and income generation, while also protecting garden sites, villages, and oases against sand encroachment and natural degradation. A major emphasis of the Volunteers’ work is the transfer of technical expertise to Mauritanian farmers and villagers.

The newest Peace Corps/Mauritania project is environmental education. Volunteers assist local communities and their schools in raising environmental awareness and encouraging school and community members to act in accordance with the principles of environmental preservation. The goal is to get these communities to improve their natural resource management practices.

In small enterprise development, Volunteers are transferring basic business and computer skills to small-scale entrepreneurs and cooperatives. They are working with Mauritania’s informal economic sector to strengthen its planning, financial management, marketing, and profitability. These skills will increase entrepreneurs’ and cooperatives’ access to credit, allowing them to create new businesses or expand existing ones.

Finally, Volunteers are working in projects designed to enhance the availability and use of information and communication technologies. Specialist information communication technology (ICT) Volunteers work with the local Cisco Academy, the University of Nouakchott, and up-country at a number of newly established technology centers.

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.


History and Government

French colonization of Mauritania began early in the 20th century, but the area was not brought under full French control until about 1934. Until independence, the French governed the country largely by relying on the authority of the tribal chiefs, some of whom, such as the emirs of Trarza and Adrar, had considerable authority. A French protectorate was proclaimed in 1903, and Mauritania became a French colony in 1920. As a member of the French West African Federation, Mauritania participated in the postwar social and political progress of the French colonies. Its elected officials gained broad authority in 1957, and Mauritania entered the French Community as an autonomous, but not fully sovereign state after the French constitutional referendum in 1958.

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania was proclaimed in November 1958; two years later, Mauritania became an independent state. From independence until 1978, Mauritania was governed by a civilian regime led by Moktar Ould Daddah, a White Moor lawyer who was known for his work to establish a consensus among different political parties, as well as between the White Moors, Black Moors, and Black Africans, Mauritania's three main ethnic groups. Ould Daddah emphasized Mauritania’s Arab heritage while creating a single-party regime in which the official Mauritanian People’s Party co-opted or suppressed all open political opposition.

In 1973, foreign interests (primarily French) in Mauritania’s iron ore mining industry were nationalized, and Mauritania withdrew from the West African franc zone and created its own currency. Ould Daddah fell from power in 1978 when his agreement to involve Mauritania in the partition of the former Spanish Sahara led to military defeat in the conflict. His government was succeeded by a number of military governments.

Conflict between Moor and non-Moor ethnic groups, centering on language, land tenure, and other issues, has been an important aspect in Mauritanian history since independence. Mauritania’s black community had long complained of racial discrimination. In early 1989, in retaliation for the expulsion of Berbers living in Senegal, riots in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou brought violent attacks on the Senegalese community, provoking closure of the frontier and mass deportations of “Mauritanians of Senegalese origin.”

Mauritania is an independent Islamic republic. Much of its current political structure dates from 1991, when political parties were legalized and the Constitution was approved after having been suspended in 1978. However, in August 2005, a bloodless coup d’etat brought to power a military junta that is currently overseeing a transition to democratic rule.


Sparsely populated and with most of its land covered by the Sahara desert, Mauritania is one of the least-developed countries in the world. Below the endless sands lies the country’s main natural resource, iron. Up until 2005, the extraction of iron ore generated almost all export revenues, and accounted for about 10 percent of employment. In the recent past, off-shore crude oil production has provided a small yet significant boost to the economy. Besides mining and crude oil extraction, only the fishing industry has any real presence in the Mauritanian commercial economy. With such a narrow base, the economy remains extremely vulnerable to external shocks, including climatic changes and fluctuations in world prices for its principal exports.

During the mid-1980s and throughout the 1990s, Mauritania implemented a series of economic reform programs seeking to diversify the economy. While the early programs focused on improving the national infrastructure, later programs concentrated on the development of the economic institutions. In terms of GDP growth, these programs have been successful, with the economy growing by an average of almost 5 percent per year since 1992. On the other hand, rapid population growth and resource mismanagement have stunted improvement in the standard of living for most Mauritanians. Agriculture, primarily subsistence farming and herding, remains the main livelihood of Mauritanians.

People and Culture

Mauritanians are most renowned for their hospitality and Islamic faith—both readily apparent to visitors. Most first-time visitors to Mauritania are amazed at the level of friendliness and openness that Mauritanians exhibit. Greetings (even between strangers) are prolonged and express great respect for the person being greeted. In conversations with people on the street, one is invariably invited to come to their house, meet their families, and share a meal. Regardless of age, wealth, or ethnicity, Mauritanians value hospitality and manifest it most often through serving tea. In a process steeped in tradition and grace, guests in a Mauritanian household are served three small glasses of strong green tea. The tea is minty, the first glass quite bitter, and the third very sweet.

Virtually all Mauritanians are Muslims. Islam has a profound effect on the society as a whole, as well as on the lives of individual citizens. Tenets of the religion are woven into the educational system, and the Koran also influences much of the legal system. Visitors quickly become accustomed to prayer calls echoing throughout a city or village five times a day. So pervasive is Islam in everyday life that many common interjections and exclamations are religious in nature, such as bismillah (“in the name of God”), alhamdulillah (“thanks to God”), and inshallah (“God willing”).


Mauritania’s climate is hot and arid except in the far south, which has higher humidity. In Nouakchott, daytime temperatures reach 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, although sweaters and blankets are needed at night. Summer temperatures regularly reach more than 100 degrees during the day. Sandstorms can strike anywhere at any time and last from a few hours to several days. Recurring droughts, coupled with population growth, threaten the remaining oases and serve to push the once nomadic herders into the ever more crowded shantytowns of Mauritania’s largest cities. In less than two decades, the population of Mauritania has shifted from being 70 percent nomadic herdsmen to being 70 percent sedentary farmers. The ecological regeneration capacity of Mauritania cannot match the new demands being put on the limited arable land. This has led to the use of increasingly marginal land for cultivation. Traditionally, Mauritania is divided into four zones or regions: Saharan, Coastal, Sahelian, and Senegal River Valley.

The far north, once the domain of the nomadic herdsmen, is often referred to as the “empty lands.” This vast, sparsely populated region is characterized by beautiful shifting sand dunes, rock outcroppings, and rugged mountain plateaus with elevations above 1,500 feet. Irregular, scant rainfall permits little vegetation, although date palms are cultivated around larger oases. To the southwest of the “empty lands” is the iron mining industry’s center and the country’s only railroad—a 400-mile track from the mining operation at F’Derik to the industrial port at Nouadhibou.

The Coastal Zone extends the length of the 400-mile-plus Atlantic coast. This zone starts near the center of the country, at Nouadhibou, and boasts some of the largest natural harbors on the west coast of Africa. The zone stretches south to the marshy areas around the mouth of the Senegal River. Here, the ocean breezes provide periodic relief from the heat, although desert winds also bring flies and sandstorms.


Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Mauritania, or to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it.

A note of caution: As you surf these sites, be aware that you will find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to give opinions and advice based on their own experiences. The opinions expressed are not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government. You may find opinions of people who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. As you read these comments, we hope you will keep in mind that the Peace Corps is not for everyone, and no two people experience their service in the same way.

General Information About Mauritania
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Nouakchott to information about converting currency from the dollar to the ouguiya. Just click on Mauritania and go from there.
Visit this site to learn all you need to know about any country in the world.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Mauritania and learn more about its social and political history.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments of countries around the world.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information about countries around the world. Each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political background.
This United Nations site allows searches for statistical information on member states.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about countries worldwide.
This website, created by a Peace Corps/Mauritania Volunteer, provides basic information about Mauritania and Peace Corps’ activities.

Connect With Other Invitees, Current Volunteers, and Returned Volunteers
This site is maintained by Volunteers currently serving in Mauritania, who invite you to join them for gathering information, asking questions, and meeting your fellow invitees.
This site hosts a bulletin board where prospective Volunteers and returned Volunteers can come together.
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. Or go straight to the Friends of Mauritania (FORIM) site: www.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts from countries around the world.

Online Articles/Current News Sites About Mauritania

  1. University of Nouakchott has information available in English, French, and Arabic:
  2. AllAfrica Global Media’s site is
  3. The University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center has pan-African information. See the General Resources section for country pages:
  4. The Mauritania Post has many Mauritania-specific information and links for Nouakchott, Mauritania, and Africa: 21

International Development Sites About Mauritania

  1. United Nations Development Programme in Mauritania in French:
  2. The World Bank: Enter Mauritania in the search window. Recommended Books

Specific to Mauritania and West Africa:

  1. Chilson, Peter. Riding the Demon: On the Road in West Africa. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.
  2. Else, David, et al. Lonely Planet Guide: West Africa. Oakland, Calif.: Lonely Planet Publications, 1999.
  3. McLean, Virginia. The Western Saharans. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1980.
  4. Murphy, Joseph. Mauritania in Photographs. Minneapolis, Minn.: Crossgar Press, 1998.
  5. Pazzanita, Anthony G., and Alfred G. Gerteiny. Historical Dictionary of Mauritania (2nd ed.). Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1996.
  6. Dettwyler, Katherine A. Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1994.

Useful cultural anthropology books

  1. Hall, Edward T. The Dance of Life. New York, NY: Anchor Books/Random House, 1983.
  2. Hall, Edward T. The Silent Language. New York, NY: Anchor Books/Random House, 1959, 1973.
  3. Hall, Edward T. Beyond Culture. New York, NY: Anchor Books/Random House, 1976.
  4. Hall, Edward T. The Hidden Dimension. New York, NY: Anchor Books/Random House, 1969, 1990.

The books by Hall are not specific to Mauritania, but can be extremely useful in the understanding of the ways that different cultures perceive time, space, and distance.

Books About the Peace Corps

  1. Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.
  2. Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
  3. Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.

Books on the Volunteer Experience

  1. Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McSeas Books, 2004.
  2. Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
  3. Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, N.Y.: Picador, 2003.
  4. Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, N.Y.: Perennial, 2001.
  5. Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, Calif.: Clover Park Press, 1991.
  6. Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).




Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service we consider normal in the United States. If you come here expecting U.S. standards, you will be in for a lot of frustration. Mail takes a minimum of two weeks to arrive in Mauritania. Some mail may simply not arrive, and some letters may arrive pre-opened or with clipped edges because someone has tried to see if any money was inside (this is rare, but it does happen). Although we do not want to sound too discouraging, communication can become a very sensitive issue when one is thousands of miles from family and friends. We think it is best to forewarn you about the reality of mail service in this part of the world. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to write “West Africa,” “Airmail,” and “Par Avion” on the envelopes.

Despite the potential delays, we strongly encourage you to write to your family regularly (perhaps weekly or biweekly) and to number your letters. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so advise them that mail is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly.

Sending letters and packages by airmail is always quicker and more reliable than surface mail (usually sent by boat), which has been known to show up years later!

People visiting in the U.S. can carry mail back and put them in a mailbox when they arrive. This is usually quicker and more secure than relying on MauriPost. If you want to send mail this way, bring plenty of U.S. postage stamps with you so that letters are ready to mail upon arrival in the U.S.

Your address during training will be:

“Your Name,” PCT

Corps de la Paix

B.P. 222

Nouakchott, Mauritania

West Africa

Although you will not be in Nouakchott during training, your mail will be brought to you at the training site. Once you have become a Volunteer and are at your site, you may have your mail sent directly to your address there.


While local telephone service is becoming more widely available inside Mauritania, it is still a bit unreliable. Generally, long-distance service to Europe and North America is good but expensive. You, your family, and friends should be prepared to rely mostly on letters and e-mail for communication.

More and more professional Mauritanians are using cellular phones, especially in the capital and larger towns, and they all subscribe to one of the two cellular companies in the country. It is highly unlikely that a cellular plan bought in the United States will cover Mauritania and the surrounding region, with or without roaming charges. Therefore, we strongly discourage you from bringing your phone along. You may want to purchase a cellphone once you are in-country. One advantage you have here is that it costs you nothing to receive a call on your cellphone (local or international).

Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access

E-mail is available in Nouakchott and in all regional capitals. Because you will probably have limited access (Volunteers average a visit to the capital once every month), one option is to arrange for Volunteer friends posted in sites with Internet access to print out and send you your e-mail. Most Volunteers set up a Yahoo, gMail, or Hotmail account before leaving home, giving the e-mail address to friends and family. There is access to the Internet in Mauritania through commercial outlets in Nouakchott and most regional capitals. Some governmental organizations in the regional capitals may also have Internet access and usually are willing to let Volunteers check their e-mail. DSL Internet service is currently available in two of Peace Corps/Mauritania’s 10 regional satellite offices. It is expected that high-speed Internet service will continue to expand to the regional capitals.

Housing and Site Location

Peace Corps/Mauritania will provide Volunteers with funds to secure safe and adequate housing in accordance with the Peace Corps’ site selection criteria (see the chapter on Health Care and Safety for further information). Housing may range from a one-room hut with no electricity or running water to a larger house with several rooms, running water, and electricity. The Peace Corps will pay for any necessary security and hygiene improvements, including a water filter.

Peace Corps/Mauritania asks host communities and agency sponsors to provide Volunteers with housing that includes a private bedroom and bath/latrine facilities. You may share a compound or a house with a host family, but the Peace Corps will ensure that you have at least one room to yourself.

Unless you are posted to a regional capital, you will most likely not have running water or electricity. This means that you may collect your water from a well or a borehole and spend your evenings reading by candle, lantern, or flashlight. You will need to be very flexible in your housing expectations as there are no guarantees of available (or continuous) electricity or water.

Living Allowance and Money Management

As a Volunteer in Mauritania, you will receive four types of allowances.

The Peace Corps gives you an allowance to cover your basic living expenses. This living allowance is reviewed at least once a year through a survey of Volunteer expenses to ensure that it is adequate. Paid in local currency every quarter, it ranges from the equivalent of $140 to $396 a month. The allowance is intended to cover your food, rent, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, transportation, reading materials, and other incidentals. You might find that you receive more remuneration than your host-country counterpart or supervisor does.

A vacation allowance of $24 per month is paid in ouguiya. It is automatically included in the quarterly deposit to your bank account.

You will also receive a one-time settling-in allowance of roughly $290, paid in local currency at the end of pre-service training, to buy basic household items for your eventual site.

If the Peace Corps requires you to travel, you will be given additional money for transportation and meals. This amount is established by the post based on the current cost of transportation and lodging.

Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Mauritania with these four allowances, although many Volunteers bring money (cash or traveler’s checks) for out-of-country travel. All Volunteers are strongly discouraged from supplementing their income with money brought from home. The living allowance is adequate, and Volunteers are expected to live at the economic level of their neighbors and colleagues.

Credit cards can be used at only a couple of establishments in the capital, but are very handy during vacations and for travel outside of Mauritania (as are ATM cards). Volunteers have found that bringing new $100 bills brings the best exchange rate when changing money. For safekeeping, Volunteers can store money, personal passports, and other valuables in the Peace Corps safe in Nouakchott. However, the Peace Corps’ liability for stored items is limited, so consider your decision to bring valuables carefully.

Food and Diet

Volunteers often struggle when adjusting to the Mauritanian diet. The typical Mauritanian family eats either rice and meat or rice and fish for lunch (depending on proximity to the river or ocean) and couscous and meat, pasta and meat, or couscous with bean sauce for dinner. The abundance of vegetables in the Mauritanian diet varies according to the season and each family’s cooking habits. Given that meals in Mauritania tend to be very starchy and oily (meats are almost always cooked in oil), many female Volunteers experience weight gain during their two years of service. Conversely, male Volunteers often find keeping weight on to be a challenge.

Vegetarian Volunteers sometimes have difficulty maintaining a meat-free diet in Mauritania. Very few local dishes are served without meat, and it is often difficult to find alternative sources of protein. However, meeting dietary challenges is almost always possible if Volunteers are willing to be resourceful and flexible. Cooking for yourself is always an option but will cause you to miss out on the Mauritanian family experience. In the case of being invited to share a meal with a Mauritanian family, you will find that your host can be very accommodating if you explain any restrictions when you are invited to their home.


Getting around Mauritania can be challenging. Taxis (taxis brousses) are the main modes of travel among towns and often entail squeezing into a Peugeot 504 with eight or nine other people or sitting on top of luggage in the back of a pickup truck with 20 other people. Driving anywhere long distance is likely to entail rumbling along sandy roads through the desert. If you are required to travel for work or medical reasons, the Peace Corps will reimburse your travel costs. Some Volunteers use their settling-in allowance to purchase bicycles. Peace Corps/Mauritania provides helmets to Volunteers and they are required to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. For your safety, Peace Corps/Mauritania prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on any two- or three-wheeled motorized vehicle (such as a motorcycle) for any reason. In addition, Volunteers are not allowed to own or drive private cars in Mauritania. Violation of any of these policies may result in termination of your Volunteer service.

Geography and Climate

Mauritania is situated on the Atlantic Ocean in northwest Africa. It is bounded on the northeast by Algeria, on the east by Mali, and on the south by Senegal. Mauritania also shares a long border with the former Spanish Sahara, control of which is contested by Morocco and an insurgent movement, the Polisario, supported principally by Algeria. The northern five-sixths of Mauritania is desert—for the most part uninhabited (the region known as El Majabaat Koubra). The majority of Mauritania’s interior population lives in the narrow strip of Sahel and savanna that sits between the Senegal River and the Sahara Desert. This area of the country generally gets more rain and is a bit cooler, if more humid. A narrow strip of savanna near the Senegal River that is used for the majority of Mauritania’s agricultural initiatives quickly gives way to the more sparsely vegetated Sahel. Farther north is the Sahara Desert, which stretches to Mauritania’s northern and eastern borders.

Mauritania has three main seasons: the hot season from April to July, the rainy season from August to November, and the cold season from December to March. Keep in mind that hot, cold, and rainy are relative terms and that seasons probably do not vary as much as the ones you are used to in the United States.

Social Activities

Social activities will vary depending on where you are located and may include taking part in local ceremonies like weddings or baptisms, storytelling, and parties and dances. Some Volunteers visit nearby Volunteers during the weekends or make an occasional trip to the capital, although it is expected that Volunteers will remain at their sites to accomplish the second Peace Corps goal of cultural exchange.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and presenting yourself as a professional at the same time. It is not an easy thing to resolve, and we can only provide you with guidelines. You will be assigned to a Mauritanian government ministry, and you are expected to dress and behave as your colleagues do. While some of your counterparts may dress in seemingly worn or shabby clothes, this is because of economics rather than choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their “best.” A foreigner wearing shabby, unmended clothing is likely to be considered an affront.

Peace Corps/Mauritania has instituted the following dress code, required for the Nouakchott office, the Kaédi training center, and other official functions. Peace Corps/Mauritania requires for office-type work assignments that men wear collared shirts and pants. Pants on women are appropriate, but they should be worn with shirts that hang to mid-thigh. Ankle-length skirts (not simple wraps), long dresses that cover the shoulders, mulafas (full-length veils worn by Moor women), or boubous (robes worn by local men or women) that go to the ankles are also appropriate. As temperatures are usually quite high, buying clothing that is mostly or all cotton is highly recommended. Volunteers can wear any kind of shoes or sandals (with or without socks) except plastic shower flip-flops. As you will be walking a great deal (mostly in sand), sturdy sandals that can easily be removed are highly recommended. Clothes should always be clean, not unduly wrinkled, and free of tears.

Personal Safety

More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but such an important issue cannot be overemphasized. Statistically, Mauritania is one of the safest countries in the world. That said, as stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Most 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 many 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 Mauritania. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.

Rewards and Frustrations

The developmental and human accomplishments of the Peace Corps are frequently not tangible or easily measured. Progress is often frustratingly slow. Through the Peace Corps, thousands of Volunteers have been given the opportunity to have a hand, even if only a small one, in shaping how some of the world’s neediest people live. At the same time, the world has been given a personal view of individual Americans putting their ideals to work.

The excitement and adventure of the Volunteer experience are, in some measure, a result of its unpredictability. There will be unexpected joys as well as unexpected disappointments. You could find plans for a health clinic canceled at the last minute because the Department of Health has been reorganized. Your plan to dig a well might be held up by a quarrel between local groups over who is to do the digging or because the required materials cannot be delivered as scheduled. The official to whom you were supposed to report might be replaced by a successor who knows little about a scheduled project. Such variables can erode the enthusiasm, the patience, and the idealism of a Volunteer. Your success will often depend upon determination, patience, and the ability to find another way. The Volunteer always has to be able to come up with a Plan B. A big part of the Peace Corps is the challenge to remain flexible, energetic, and hopeful at a time when it would be easy to give in to cynicism or indifference.

Ideally, a Volunteer’s lifestyle and work should merge. Accepting the community and being accepted by it are essential for success. In both their daily lives and jobs, a Volunteer must take care to avoid the inherent appearance of arrogance in the position of an outsider who has come to bring change and “improvements.” Volunteers find that as they live and work, they learn from the people of their host country at least as much as they teach them. In so doing, they can enhance their effort to achieve the third goal of the Peace Corps by bringing their host country experiences home to the United States.


Overview of Pre-Service Training

The overall goal of Mauritania’s pre-service training program (PST) is to provide you with the necessary language, technical, core (cross-cultural and community development), and personal health skills to work and live effectively as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mauritania. Peace Corps/Mauritania’s training philosophy emphasizes active, participatory learning. The training program stresses practical, experiential methods, using the resources of the training community and utilizing the knowledge and experiences of trainees, trainers, and counterparts. Critical thinking, problem solving, focused observations, and hands-on practice are encouraged. You will be expected to become progressively more independent and to take charge of your own learning. Collaboration, open communication, and a two-way feedback system are essential components of a successful program. Training is also a time to review your decision to join the Peace Corps for two years.

In 1999, Peace Corps/Mauritania implemented a community-based training approach. This means that trainees are placed in communities that resemble their final Volunteer site assignments. You will live in these communities with up to three other trainees and a facilitator. The facilitator will be available for structured language classes, technical fieldwork, and cross-cultural learning. Other staff (technical, health, and cross-cultural coordinators) will visit your community from time to time, and you will meet with other trainees in your project and with the entire training group at regularly scheduled intervals. This training approach allows you to experience the realities of living and working in Mauritania while still in training.

All trainees and Mauritanian facilitators return to the training center for several days at a time to continue large group training. Successful completion of all training components is required for you to be sworn-in as a Volunteer.

Technical Training

Technical training prepares you to work in Mauritania by building on the skills you already have and by helping you to develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff, Mauritanian experts, and current Volunteers conduct the training program. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you currently have to the community in which you will serve as a Volunteer.

Technical training will include sessions on the environment, economics, and politics in Mauritania and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your program sector’s goals and will meet with the Mauritanian agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them.

You will be supported and evaluated by the training staff throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you will need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community.

Language Training

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 instruction is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and be invited to become a Volunteer. Experienced Mauritanian language instructors teach formal language classes six days a week in small classes of three to five people. The Mauritanian languages are also introduced in the health, culture, and technical components of training.

Your language training utilizes a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills further on your own. Prior to your swearing in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.

All trainees, regardless of eventual site location, must attain an intermediate level proficiency in French.

Cross-Cultural Training

As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Mauritanian host family. This experience is designed to ease your transition to life at your site. Families have gone through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of the pre-service training program and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Mauritania. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.

Cross-cultural and community development also will be covered in your pre-service training to help improve your skills of perception, communication, and facilitation. Topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, and traditional and political structures are also addressed.

Health Training

During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You are expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. As a trainee, you 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 Mauritania. 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.

Safety Training

During the required safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces risk in your 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 trainees and Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills.

During your service, there are usually three training events.

The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:


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 Mauritania maintains a clinic with two full-time Peace Corps medical officers (PCMOs), who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Mauritania at local, American-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an American medical facility in the region or to the United States.

Health Issues in Mauritania

Major health problems among Peace Corps Volunteers in Mauritania are rare and are often the result of a Volunteer not taking preventive measures to stay healthy. The most common health problems here are minor ones that are also found in the United States, such as colds, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, constipation, sinus infections, skin infections, headaches, dental problems, minor injuries, STDs, adjustment disorders, emotional problems, and alcohol abuse. These problems may be more frequent or compounded by life in Mauritania because certain environmental factors here raise the risk and/ or exacerbate the severity of illness and injuries.

The most common major health concerns here are malaria, amoebic dysentery, giardia, schistosomiasis, hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS. Because malaria is endemic in Mauritania, Volunteers must take anti-malarial medication. You will also be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, meningitis A and C, tetanus/diphtheria, Japanese B encephalitis, typhoid, and rabies. Amoebic dysentery and giardia can be avoided by thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables and either boiling your drinking water or using chlorine to treat your water. Additionally, by not swimming or bathing in freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers, you can avoid contracting schistosomiasis.

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 Mauritania, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training, you will receive a first-aid kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs you may encounter at your site. The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter.

During pre-service training, you will have access to basic first-aid supplies through the medical officer. However, during this time, 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 new shipments to arrive.

You will have dental and physical exams twice: at midservice and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Mauritania will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Mauritania, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.

Maintaining Your Health

As a Volunteer, you must accept a certain amount of 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 medical diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Mauritania is to take preventive measures for the following:

Malaria is endemic in most areas of the Peace Corps world, including Mauritania. For all Volunteers serving in malaria endemic areas, or for those traveling in malaria endemic areas, it is extremely important to fully comply with the recommended drug regimen to prevent malaria. Malaria can be rapidly fatal in people who have no natural immunity to the disease (like Volunteers). Thus, it is mandatory that you take your malaria prophylaxis regularly. Your medical officer will discuss specific recommendations for the prevention of malaria in Mauritania.

Rabies is present in Mauritania. Any possible exposure to a rabid animal must be reported immediately to the medical office. Rabies exposure can occur through animal bites, scratches from animals’ teeth, and contact with animal saliva. Your medical officer will take into consideration many factors to decide the appropriate course of therapy necessary to prevent rabies. Rabies, if contracted, is 100 percent fatal. All necessary rabies immunizations will be given by the Peace Corps medical office.

Volunteers are required to wear a protective helmet whenever riding on a two-wheeled vehicle (i.e., bicycle). Failure to comply with this regulation will result in immediate administrative separation from the Peace Corps. This means you will be sent home; there is no appeal. Volunteers are not permitted to operate or ride on motorcycles as a passenger.

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 illness and injuries.

Volunteers must also adhere to recommended standards for food and water preparation. 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, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation for Mauritania during pre-service training.

Abstinence is the only certain choice for prevention of HIV/ AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Condoms will be provided by the medical office. 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 your medical officer about this important issue.

Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies. 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.

Women’s Health Information

Pregnancy is a health condition that is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions requiring medical attention, but may also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if a pregnant 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 can be met. The majority of Volunteers who become pregnant are medically separated.

If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical officer in Mauritania will provide them. If you require a specific feminine hygiene product, please bring a three-month supply with you.

Your Peace Corps Medical Kit

The Peace Corps Medical Officer provides Volunteers with a first-aid 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

Ace bandage
Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Paracetamol) 325 mg. tablets
Adhesive tape
Aloe vera lip balm
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Digel)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Ascorbic acid, 500 mg.
Aspirin, 325 mg. tablets
Betadine wound/skin disinfectant
Butterfly closures
Calamine lotion
Calcium carbonate
Cepacol lozenges
Dacriose eye wash
Dental floss
Dextromethorphan (Robitussin-DM lozenges, for cough)
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Gauze pads (sterile)
Hydrocortisone cream 1%
Hydrogen peroxide (regional)
Ibuprofen, 400 mg. tablets
Insect repellent (Ultrathon)
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Lindane shampoo/lotion (regional)
Loperamide (regional)
Malaria smear kit
MIF kit
Mycelex 1% antifungal cream
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Poudre salvatis (regional)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Silver sulfadiazine cream (regional)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Optopics)
Tinactin (antifungal cream)

Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist

If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since the time you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and will 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, you should contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your predeparture 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—at your pre-departure orientation and shortly after you arrive in Mauritania. 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, we will order refills during your service.

While awaiting shipment, which can take several months, you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or 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. To reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease, we discourage you from using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service. 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 their use has been recommended by an ophthalmologist 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 and/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).

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:

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; and Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise. The safety and security team also tracks crime statistics, identifies trends in criminal activity, and highlights potential safety risks to Volunteers.

The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.

If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed.

After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provides support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.

The following country-specific data chart shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/trainees in Mauritania as compared to all other Africa region programs as a whole, from 1999–2003. 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 the eight most commonly occurring assault types. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).

When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.

What if you become a victim of a violent crime?

Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.

Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.

If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.

In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at [email protected]

Security Issues in Mauritania

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 Mauritania. You can reduce your risk of becoming a target for crime by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in Nouakchott; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. The following are safety concerns in Mauritania you should be aware of:

Robbery/burglary—The homes of some Volunteers have been burglarized in the past, and Volunteers should take the same precautions that they would in the United States. The Peace Corps covers proper home safety during training, and requires landlords to install locks on all Volunteer homes (doors and windows).

Harassment—Volunteers have reported varying levels of harassment during their service. While children can be a constant nuisance—asking for pens, candy, and money; calling Volunteers names; and sometimes throwing rocks— even adults can be troublesome. Volunteers are sometimes subjected to overt sexual comments, persistent demands for money or a visa for the United States, intense pressure to convert to Islam, being called derogatory names, or harassment based on race or nationality. This tends to happen more often in larger cities where the Volunteer is not as well-known. Strategies for dealing and coping with harassment are covered during pre-service training.

Threat of sexual assault—Volunteers have been targets of sexual assault in Mauritania. Cross-cultural differences in gender relations are often associated with sexual assaults, and the assailant is often known to the Volunteer. Techniques taught in Peace Corps/Mauritania’s training program regarding sexual assaults can seriously minimize your risk. Volunteers are urged to report all assaults and threats of assault to the Peace Corps medical officer so that staff can respond with appropriate support. Note that sex outside of marriage is not looked upon favorably in Mauritania, and openly disregarding this norm may jeopardize your safety and/or ability to develop mutually respectful relationships in your community and at your job.

Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime

You must be prepared to take on a large 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 enhance your acceptance. In coming to Mauritania, do what you would do if you moved to a large 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 Mauritania may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.

Volunteers attract a lot of attention in large cities and at their sites, but receive far more negative attention in highly populated centers, where they are anonymous. In smaller towns, host family, friends, and colleagues look out for them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to unwanted attention. Keep your money out of sight—use an undergarment money pouch, such as the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. You should always walk with a companion at night.

Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Mauritania

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. Mauritania’s in-country safety program is outlined below.

The Peace Corps/Mauritania 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 memoranda 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 Mauritania. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout your two-year service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.

Certain site selection criteria are used to determine the availability of safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for the 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 criteria are 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 the country’s detailed emergency action plan 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. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Mauritania will gather at predetermined locations until the situation resolves itself or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.

Finally, in order to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to either the Peace Corps medical officer or the Peace Corps safety and security 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.


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, our diversity poses challenges. In Mauritania, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed.

Outside of Mauritania’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What is viewed as typical cultural behavior or norms may be a narrow and selective interpretation, such as the perception that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Mauritania 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 differences that you present.

In order to ease the transition and adapt to life in Mauritania, 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 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 your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.

Overview of Diversity in Mauritania

The Peace Corps staff in Mauritania recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, religions, ethnic groups, and ages and hope that you 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

Many female Volunteers expect the worst when coming to serve in an Islamic republic. Based upon the Western media’s conception of the role of women in Islam, many Volunteers anticipate a situation that is much worse than what actually exists. Women in Mauritania have a great deal of freedom and many more rights than women in other Islamic countries. Mauritanian women have held ministerial positions and other influential roles in the national government. However, Mauritanian society is still very much male dominated. Female Volunteers will find that many men (for cultural reasons) refuse to shake their hands. They might also find that they need to work harder than male Volunteers to get respect from counterparts and other community members. In addition, as a result of stereotypes perpetuated by Western movies and the inferences made about women living alone, female Volunteers may find themselves the regular target of overt sexual advances and marriage proposals.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color =

The most common challege for African Americans living in Mauritania is constantly being mistaken for a Pulaar, Soninke, or Wolof person. While this sometimes makes Volunteer service easier, it can also cause a great deal of frustration.

These Volunteers are often asked what family they are from (larger family units are a source of identity for these three ethnic groups), and host country nationals are often shocked when the Volunteer does not speak their language. A more negative aspect of life in Mauritania is the racism that some Volunteers encounter. A minority of Mauritanians believe that dark skin is not a desirable feature, and African-American Volunteers have experienced problems as a result.

Because of the presence of Chinese doctors and development workers and Korean fishermen in Mauritania, Asian-American Volunteers are sometimes mistaken for them and often have to deal with the negative reactions that come from the insensitive behavior of other foreigners.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers

Respect comes with age in Mauritania. Younger Volunteers may have to work harder than their older colleagues to be accepted as professionals. While this often proves to be an unexpected bonus for older Volunteers, many struggle with the fact that the majority of Volunteers in Mauritania are in their twenties (the average age is 23), and they sorely miss having an American peer group.

In training, senior Volunteers may experience frustration with the basic level of technical skills being taught. Senior Volunteers may have to be assertive in developing an effective, individual approach to language learning.

During service, senior Volunteers may not receive desired personal support from younger Volunteers. They may also find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support (while some Volunteers find this to be a very enjoyable part of their service, others find the role uncomfortable or burdensome).

Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers

As homosexuality is forbidden in the Koran, most Mauritanians believe that same-sex relationships are wrong. While this may not be surprising, what is confusing is the fact that Mauritanian men and women tend to be more physically affectionate with members of their own gender than with the opposite sex. This should not be taken as a sign that homosexual relationships are accepted. Even the most open-minded Mauritanians judge gays and lesbians rather harshly. Many even refuse to admit that homosexuality exists in this country. While this is certainly not the case, most gay and lesbian Volunteers have found that they are not able to be open about their sexual orientation. Another challenge is finding peer support. While Peace Corps/Mauritania is committed to supporting diversity, it is a relatively small program, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers may serve for two years without meeting other openly gay Volunteers.

You can find more information about this topic at www., a website affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association that provides specific information on serving in the Peace Corps as a gay or lesbian.

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers

Mauritania is an Islamic state. While the majority of Mauritanians are curious about and respectful of religious differences, most Volunteers will experience some religious harassment during their two years of service. This harassment can range from good-natured or subtle pressure to convert to Islam to open hostility toward non-Muslims and/or Westerners. These situations are generally frustrating for Volunteers, but the majority find constructive ways of coping with them and feel that living in an Islamic republic gives them a unique perspective that they would not otherwise have had.

Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities

For the most part, public facilities in Mauritania are unequipped to accommodate persons with disabilities. However, as part of the medical clearance process, the Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodation, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Mauritania without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/Mauritania staff will work with any disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.


How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to Mauritania?

Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. 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 authorized baggage 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.

How much money should I bring?

Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries or for the purchase of cellphones. Cash, especially in larger denominations like $100 bills, is easier to exchange than traveler’s checks and will yield a better exchange rate. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that suits 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. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa or travel assistance.

Will my belongings be covered by insurance?

The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. However, such insurance can be purchased before you leave. Ultimately, Volunteers are responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Additional information about insurance should be obtained by calling the company directly. 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?

Volunteers in Mauritania do not need to get an international driver’s license. Operation of privately owned vehicles is prohibited. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses, mini-buses, and trucks, to donkey carts, and a lot of walking.

What should I bring as gifts for Mauritania friends and my host family?

This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; small flashlights, frames, or photo albums; souvenirs from your area; or photos to give away.

Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?

Peace Corps trainees are assigned to individual sites during the third week of pre-service training. This gives the Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their ministry counterparts. Most Volunteers will live in small towns or in rural villages, but will usually be within one hour from the nearest Volunteer. Some sites will require a 10- to 12-hour drive from the capital. There will be at least one Volunteer based in each of the regional capitals and about four to seven Volunteers in the capital city.

How can my family contact me in an emergency?

The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580; select option 2, then 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 Mauritania?

Yes. It is usually possible to call family and friends in the United States from telephone boutiques or cell phones in larger towns, regional capitals, or Nouakchott. When calling home, dial 001 before dialing the area code and the phone number. Instruct your family and friends to dial 011.222 and then your local phone number when calling Mauritania.

May I bring my bicycle with me?

Trainees are not restricted from bringing their personal bicycles with them; however, there are several factors trainees should consider before packing their bikes. First, the bike will be counted as a piece of check-in luggage by the airlines and any costs levied by the airline will be solely the responsibility of the trainee. Second, spare parts or experienced repairmen may be impossible to find in-country. Third, petty theft is a problem in many countries and your bicycle could be a very visible and tempting target. Depending on your project and site placement, Peace Corps/Mauritania may issue you a mountain bicycle to be used for your assignment.

May I bring my guitar/musical instrument with me?

Trainees are allowed to bring musical instruments with them and a large number of trainees do so. However, you should be aware that a guitar or other sizable musical instrument may be considered as a piece of baggage by an airline. Any additional costs will be solely your responsibility.


This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Mauritania and is based on their experience (The asterisked items in particular were recommended by Volunteers as “sanity savers” during training). Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You can always have things sent to you later. You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight restriction on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Mauritania.

General Clothing

Note: There are a lot of talented tailors and a wide variety of fabric in Mauritania. You will be able to have clothes made here. Bring things that you can have copied. Do not worry about bringing enough clothes for two years. NOTE: Bring enough clothes to get through your first 3 months of training. You will be asked to divide your belongings when you arrive in country, and anything you don't need for your 1st 3 months will be stored in a locked room at the training center. If you are having trouble fitting that 5th cotton shirt in your bag, keep in mind that each regional capital usually has a pile of clothes left by other volunteers, and many trainees pick up new clothes during their site visits, after the first 6 weeks of training. And since the end of training usually coincides with the close of service for the 2nd year volunteers, there is another influx of clothing left behind to pick from. For Men:

For Women:



Electronic Gadgets

Community health/water and sanitation Volunteers might consider bringing:

Small enterprise development, ICT, and education Volunteers should note:

As it is highly unlikely that you will be working in the fields or digging a well, you should be prepared to look professional. You will be working with Mauritanian educators and businesspeople in a small city or the capital. At some point, you will also be meeting with local officials, and since everything is unpredictable here, it is best to start the day looking professional. This means nice pants/khakis (for men), ankle-length dresses or skirts (for women), and shirts with collars and sleeves. Women need to make sure the outline of their legs cannot be seen through the skirt. This can be a disaster for classroom management. Bring a cotton slip. Remember that short sleeves (as long as your shoulders are covered) are acceptable, but tank tops are not. Also, you will be happy to have a few pairs of nice sandals (which are easy to take on and off). A cotton blazer or lightweight big shirt that you could wear over a nice shell or tank top will also get a lot of use.

A suit is almost never necessary for male Volunteers. Bring khaki-type pants that are lightweight but nice-looking. You should also have a tie and at least one belt and a few short-sleeved button-down cotton shirts with collars. Rubber or plastic shower-type shoes are not appropriate at work. Bring a nicer pair of sandals.


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.




Health Insurance

Personal Papers


Personal Effects

Financial Management

See also

External links

Personal tools
Tell Your Friends
Peace Corps News
Country Information