From Peace Corps Wiki
Peace Corps' official publication on Nicaragua is The Peace Corps Welcomes You to Nicaragua : A Peace Corps Publication for New Volunteers. This book is mailed to Peace Corps Invitees that have been invited to serve in Nicaragua . To view this book click here This publication is revised every couple of years with the bulk of the responsibility for editing/updating the content placed on Peace Corps/Nicaragua Country Director (CD). A problem with the publication is the CD usually has more important things to do so little priority is placed on the publication. Another shortcoming of the book is that the CD leads of very different lifestyle in Nicaragua than PCV’s do, so the subjective statements in the book can vary greatly from what volunteers actually say.
The solution is this page. It is based on the information in The Peace Corps Welcomes You to Nicaragua , however, PCV's in Nicaragua and RPCV’s who served in Nicaragua actively edit items and add content to this page to keep in updated.
PEACE CORPS / NICARAGUA HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Nicaragua
The first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Nicaragua in 1969. Between 1969 and 1978, the program ranged in size from 75 to 125 Volunteers. Volunteers provided assistance in areas such as education, vocational training, rural nutrition, rural waterworks, agricultural extension, cooperatives, and municipal development. After the earthquake of 1972, efforts were dedicated to rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.
The Peace Corps program in Nicaragua was suspended in 1978 because of civil war. In 1982, the Peace Corps attempted to reestablish a program in Nicaragua but was unsuccessful because of the highly polarized political situation in the country. Four experienced Volunteers from other Spanish-speaking countries reinitiated the program in May 1991. The program has since grown to more than 160 Volunteers working in four projects throughout Nicaragua. In January 1995, Peace Corps/Nicaragua piloted community-based training (CBT), an innovative, experiential learning model that you will soon participate in firsthand. CBT helps trainees adapt to field situations while living with Nicaraguan families during the full training period.
Peace Corps Programming in Nicaragua
Peace Corps/Nicaragua works in five primary areas: small business development (SBD), community health education, environmental education, agriculture (i.e., sustainable food security), and teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). All projects focus on helping Nicaraguans develop sustainable responses to local needs. In 1991, when the Peace Corps returned to Nicaragua, the first Volunteers were assigned to vocational training institutes.
As a result of that effort, the SBD project was created. This project has since expanded and adapted to meet Nicaragua’s emerging needs and challenges. This project provides sustainable business and life skills to youth, including out-ofschool youth, enhancing their capacity to create or gain employment and increasing income and economic opportunities in their communities. SBD Volunteers focus most of their efforts on conducting entrepreneurship and job skills training courses for youth in secondary schools, technical institutes, and in other educational centers. Nearly all SBD Volunteers are assigned to work in secondary schools with the Ministry of Education (MECD), and they live in small towns and cities. Based on community needs and opportunities, Volunteers also provide information technology training and business advising to local small business owners.
The community health education project began in 1992. Working in partnership with the Ministry of Health (MINSA), Volunteers in this project strive to improve the health and well-being of poor rural Nicaraguans. To address the critical health needs of Nicaragua, community health education Volunteers are based out of rural health clinics and posts. In conjunction with local health promoters, Volunteers educate community members on basic prevention techniques to help them avoid or diminish the effects of devastating but controllable diseases. This project emphasizes three primary areas: environmental health, adolescent health, and maternal and infant health. Preventive health education focuses on diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections, malaria, nutrition, breastfeeding, drug and alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS, maternal and infant health, parenting and child care, vaccinations, and life skills for youth. Volunteers conduct health education activities in rural health clinics and posts, in local primary and secondary schools, and with community groups (women’s groups, adolescent groups, etc.).
Peace Corps/Nicaragua initiated the community-based environmental education project in 1995. This project aims to change attitudes and promote positive behavior at the community level toward the sustainable use of natural resources. Peace Corps Volunteers work with the Ministry of Education to help local teachers enhance their participatory teaching methodologies. They do this by integrating environmental topics into the classrooms and by implementing hands-on activities outside the classroom setting. All Volunteers in this project utilize a jointly published (Peace Corps and MECD) environmental education guide for primary schools to direct their activities. Volunteers are assigned to rural school districts where they work with at least three elementary schools. Volunteers work directly with teachers, students, and community members supporting environmental education using interactive, student-centered methods and community efforts to address local environmental concerns. Peace Corps Volunteers model participatory education methodologies, conduct teacher-training activities, and coordinate other environmentally focused activities based on community need.
Peace Corps began working in the agriculture sector in late 1999 in response to damage from Hurricane Mitch in the northern region of the country. These areas continue to suffer the consequences of hurricanes, floods, and droughts that have devastated crops and lands and caused a serious socioeconomic rural crisis. Rural households from the north, central, and Pacific regions suffer high poverty levels caused by low crop productivity and inadequate use of backyard space and available biodiversity. This results in malnutrition and a low standard of living. Peace Corps Volunteers work with the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), and are assigned to small rural communities. The project has a strong family focus. Volunteers work with local farm families to improve their food security by enhancing soil fertility; promoting soil and water conservation, implementing crop diversification and integrated pest management; and maximizing available resources and space in a family’s backyard or patio area. Agriculture Peace Corps Volunteers also work with families on food-processing activities for consumption and/or sale.
The teaching English as a foreign language sector began in August 2006 and is the first TEFL program in all of Latin America. Volunteers work with the Ministry of Education (MINED) and work in secondary schools to help teachers' English skills, improve their teaching methodologies, and develop materials and resources.
Each Peace Corps/Nicaragua project involves youth and takes a gender-sensitive approach to achieve equality and sustainability. All projects are adjusted and refined as new opportunities and needs emerge. For example, as new information technologies are developed and access grows throughout the country, the Peace Corps strives to use those technologies to aid Nicaraguans.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: NICARAGUA AT A GLANCE
Nicaragua probably derives its name from an Indian chief, Nicarao, who ruled part of the area at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Christopher Columbus, in 1492, was the first European to touch Nicaraguan soil. Francisco Hernandez de Córdoba followed in 1524 and founded the principal colonial cities of Granada and León. Granada evolved into a stronghold of the aristocracy, and León became the political and intellectual capital. The rivalry between these cities persists to this day. For three centuries, Nicaragua was a province of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, as the Spanish called their territories south of Mexico. Independence from Spanish rule came in 1821, and, for a short period of time, Nicaragua was a member of the Central American Federation, which included Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. In 1838, Nicaragua became an independent republic.
For the next 100 years, Nicaragua experienced periods of war and peace, including an attempted takeover by American William Walker in the mid- to late 1800s. Walker was defeated and killed by an alliance of Central American nations. After another period of unrest in the early 1900s, Nicaragua’s president invited U.S. Marines to restore and maintain order in the country. In 1934, the government was taken over by Colonel Anastasio Somoza García, initiating more than 40 years of family rule under a military dictatorship. In 1972, central Managua was destroyed by an earthquake that killed thousands. Managua was never completely rebuilt and has become a sprawling city without a center. In 1979, the Somoza regime was overthrown by the Marxist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which ruled until 1990. This period included a U.S. government-supported civil war against the Sandinista government. A 1989 accord permitted free elections in 1990, in which Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, known for her conciliatory nature, became president. Nicaragua has experienced relative peace since 1990, and the country has celebrated three successive free elections to date.
Nicaragua is an independent republic with a democratically elected president and a unicameral National Assembly with 93 seats. The assembly’s members are elected by proportional representation and serve five-year terms. Presidential elections are conducted every five years. In the most recent election (November 2001), more than 90 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in an unprecedented demonstration of hope and faith in democracy, electing Enrique Bolaños as president. The three major political parties are the FSLN, the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC)-currently in power, and the Conservative Party, with the PLC and the FSLN holding the majority of the power. An agreement reached in 2000, known as El Pacto, effectively limits the ability of minor parties to emerge. Political differences and tensions are great between the two most powerful parties. Democracy in Nicaragua is incipient as it strives to move beyond its tense and troubled past.
Agriculture is the cornerstone of the Nicaraguan economy. The principal domestic crops are corn, beans, sorghum, and rice. Cotton, coffee, sugar, bananas, and tobacco are the principal export crops. Additional export products are beef and shrimp. When she assumed office in April 1990, President Chamorro inherited a very unstable economic situation, with hyperinflation, a large external debt, and high unemployment. Over the past 15 years, Nicaragua has privatized many public institutions, but internal and external debt rates remain dangerously high. While Managua has grown and modernized, the poor rural and marginalized urban populations have experienced few of the economic gains. Droughts in 1996 and 1997, followed by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, caused tremendous economic hardship. The combination of unemployment and underemployment exceeds 50 percent. Nicaragua’s annual per capita gross national product is currently less than $500, making it one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. An additional drought in 2001, coupled with a sharp decline in coffee prices, led to hunger in rural areas and another serious challenge to the economy. The coffee crisis continues today, damaging both the economic and the social welfare of the country.
The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is an agreement between the United States, five Central American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) and the Dominican Republic. Its terms were negotiated and signed by Central American representatives in 2004. The U.S. Congress ratified CAFTA in July 2005 and in August 2005 President Bush signed the bill into law. Although there are differing perspectives on its purpose and outcomes, its aim is to promote economic growth in the region and alleviate poverty by opening up trade and investment (and thus creating jobs).
People and Culture
The majority of Nicaraguans can best be classified as mestizo, a mix in which neither the European nor the Indian cultures predominate. On the geographically and politically isolated Caribbean coast there are six different ethnic cultures, including the mestizo population. The others are Creole, Miskito, Garífuna, Rama, and Mayagna. The Caribbean region is multiethnic, multilingual, and culturally diverse, but its residents only represent about 10 percent of the total population.
The official and predominant language in Nicaragua is Spanish. Along the Caribbean coast some Miskito, Mayagna, and Rama cultures have maintained their indigenous languages; Afro-Caribbeans speak English and Creole.
More than 90 percent of the population belongs to Christian denominations (approximately 73 percent of which identify themselves as Roman Catholics, 15 percent as belonging to various evangelical churches, and the remainder to other Christian-based faiths (Moravians, Mormons, etc.); 8.5 percent declare no religious affiliation or claim to be atheiests. The traditional social structure of Nicaragua has been essentially colonial, with a small number of wealthy landowning families at the top and a broad peasant class at the bottom. Despite the country’s economic growth in the 1970s, the emergence of a middle class, and the decade of socialist rule, there are still stark inequalities in the distribution of wealth. The country’s educational system, a major avenue for economic and social mobility, recently replaced the traditions of classicism and intellectualism with vocational training. Thus, the lower class now has a somewhat better chance for economic advancement. The literacy rate is estimated at 68 percent.
Nicaraguans are warm, generous, and friendly. Despite the tensions between the United States and Nicaraguan governments in the 1980s, the Nicaraguans are open to receiving Peace Corps Volunteers into their communities and homes. Their hospitality is humbling. Nicaraguans are proud of their cultural heritage, as seen in typical dances such as the Güegüense and in the continued importance of poet Rubén Darío. Nicaraguans are also passionate about politics and are quick to share their thoughts on past or current events.
Nicaragua is the largest of the five Central American republics, with a land area of almost 50,000 square miles (slightly smaller than New York). It is the least densely populated of the Central American nations, with a population of 5.3 million (July 2004 estimate) and an average annual growth rate of 1.97 percent. Known as the land of lakes and volcanoes, Nicaragua has a diverse environment including highlands, lowlands, tropical forests, lakes, and two oceans. Lake Nicaragua is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world and contains such aquatic oddities as freshwater sharks. Nicaragua’s location and diverse geography make it a beautiful and resource-rich country, yet it is also vulnerable to many natural disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, droughts, and hurricanes. This vulnerability has increased as a result of deforestation and construction in unsafe areas.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Nicaragua and 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. 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 Nicaragua
The Latin American Information Network Center (LANIC) from the University of Texas is a very comprehensive resource on all of Latin America. It also organizes by country links to a variety of websites on multiple topics (history, culture, government, news, etc.).
Visit this site for general travel advice about almost any country in the world.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Nicaragua 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 United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about 228 countries.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
“Friends of Nicaragua” is the official website for the returned Peace Corps Volunteers from Nicaragua. It contains general information on the country and serves as an organizational focal point for former Volunteers, including an email listserv.
The National Peace Corps Association is 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 Amigos de Nicaragua (www.amigosdenicaragua.org, see above).
This is an independent new site serving returned Peace Corps Volunteers. There are relevant links to information and chat groups for prospective Volunteers.
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.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Nicaragua
Nicaragua travel, news, and user forum, created by two Nicaragua RPCVs.
Comprehensive list of links to local and international sites about Nicaragua.
Links to English language new stories about Nicaragua and more.
Nicaragua’s largest daily newspaper (in Spanish).
Links to English language news stories about Nicaragua.
International Development Sites
The site of the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua.
The U.S. Agency for International Development’s official Nicaragua website. This will provide valuable information on development trends in country.
The World Bank Group’s mission is to fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in the developing world. It is a development bank that provides loans, policy advice, technical assistance, and knowledge-sharing services to developing countries to reduce poverty. This site contains a lot of information and resources regarding Nicaragua and development.
The Organization of the American States’ website contains information about development priorities, democracy, and other issues that are key in the Americas.
- Berman, Joshua, and Randall Wood (both Returned Nicaragua PCVs). Moon Handbooks Nicaragua. Emeryville, Calif.: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2002, 2005. http://gotonicaragua.com/content/view/14/30/
- Berman, Joshua, and Randall Wood. Living Abroad In Nicaragua (by returned Nicaragua Volunteers). Emeryville, Calif.: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2007. http://gotonicaragua.com/content/view/15/31/
- De La Selva, Salomon. Tropical Town and Other Poems. Houston, Texas: Arte Público Press, 1999.
- Glenn, Garvin. Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras. United Kingdom: Brasseys, 1992.
- Gould, Jeffrey L. To Die in This Way: Nicaraguan Indians and the Myth of the Mestizaje 1880-1965. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998.
- Kinzer, Stephen. Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua. New York: Anchor Books, 1992.
- MacAulay, Neill. The Sandino Affair. Wacahoota Press, 1998.
- Merrill, Tim L. Nicaragua: A Country Study.Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1999.
- Miranda, Roger. The Civil War in Nicaragua: Inside the Sandinistas. Somerset, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1993.
- Norsworthy, Kent. Nicaragua: A Country Guide.Silver City, N.M.: Interhemispheric Resource Center, 1990.
- Pezzullo, Lawrence. At the Fall of Somoza. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994.
- Plunkett, Hazel. Nicaragua: A Guide to the People, Politics and Culture. Northampton, Mass.: Interlink Publishing, 1999.
Books About the Peace Corps
- Banerjee, Dillon. So You Want to Join the Peace Corps: What to Know Before You Go. Berkeley, Calif.:Ten Speed Press, 2000 (paperback).
- Herrera, Susana. Mango Elephants in the Sun: How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York: Harper Perennial, 2001.
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s. Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 2000 (paperback).
- Lucas, C. Payne, and Kevin Lowther. Keeping Kennedy’s Promise: The Peace Corps’ Moment of Truth (2nd ed.). Peace Corps Online, 2002.
- Redmon, Coates. Come as You Are: The Peace Corps Story. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, 1986.
- Thomsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace CorpsChronicle. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969, 1997 (paperback).
- Tidwell, Mike. The Ponds of Kalambayi: An African Sojourn. Guilford, Conn.: The Lyons Press, 1990, 1996 (paperback).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Relative to the service in most developing countries, mail between the United States and Nicaragua is dependable. Airmail takes about two weeks; surface mail can take months. Packages sometimes mysteriously disappear in transit, and sometimes they are opened and the contents stolen. It is best if packages do not exceed two pounds. Padded-envelope-sized packages work well. Don’t have money, airline tickets, or other valuables sent to you through the mail. Sensitive items should be sent via an expedited—and insured—courier service such as DHL or UPS. You can consult with in-country staff on how to do this, if necessary.
It is usually not worth the effort to have large packages sent from the United States. Volunteers are responsible for paying customs fees on larger items, which may exceed the value of the items sent. Retrieving a package often means an entire day’s travel to the city. There are modern supermarkets and other well-stocked stores in the capital that should supply all your needs.
Your address during training in Nicaragua will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
Voluntario del Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 3256
Once your site has been identified, you will be responsible for sending the address to family and friends if you decide to have your mail delivered directly there.
International phone service to and from Nicaragua is good relative to service in other developing countries. ENITEL, the Nicaraguan telephone agency, has offices in most municipal centers and in all cities. International telephone calls can be very expensive; however, Internet cafes throughout the country offer good communication services at more reasonable rates. For telephone communication to the States, most Volunteers use Internet cafes or have family and friends call them at a local number. Others call home collect, using international calling cards from companies such as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint or the local version from ENITEL.
Many of the families who host Volunteers during training have telephones in their homes. If not, there is public phone access in all of the training communities. Nicaragua also has a fairly extensive and growing cellular phone service. All Peace Corps staff members have cellphones, as do a select network of Volunteers who act as communications and emergency liaisons to Volunteers throughout the country. Cellphone service is available in all departmental capitals, but because of mountainous terrain and scattered populations, service rarely reaches the more remote areas. As a result of fairly wide coverage, or at least accessibility in the departmental capitals, nearly half of the Volunteers choose to have cellphones. However, differences in technology make many U.S. cellphones incompatible with the Nicaraguan system. Where cellphone service is unavailable, local communication methods are sufficiently reliable for Volunteers and are compatible with the Peace Corps’ view that Volunteers should live modestly at the level of their local colleagues.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Local Internet providers exist in the capital, in nearly all major cities, and in some smaller towns. As a result, cities and towns throughout the country have Internet cafes that offer access to the public by the hour (for a small fee). Connectivity charges in some towns may be higher than in cities if they do not have a local server and have to make long distance calls to connect.
Most Volunteers have regular (weekly or monthly) access to e-mail. For most Volunteers, e-mail is the primary form of communication with friends and family in the States. Additionally, the Peace Corps office in Managua has four computers with Internet access for Volunteers to use.
Housing and Site Location
Housing options and site locations vary greatly depending upon your project. Business Volunteers tend to live in towns and cities throughout Nicaragua ranging from 1,000 to 100,000 residents. The location of health and environment assignments varies from medium-sized cities to remote rural communities. And agriculture Volunteers generally live in small, remote communities (as few as 200 residents) concentrated in the northern region of the country.
Most(but not all) Volunteer homes have electricity, and most have running water. However, both electric and water service may be intermittent. A few homes even have telephones and, rarely, access to cable television. Volunteers in very rural sites may have to haul water to their home from a communal pump for their daily water supply. Your Volunteer assignment description provides greater detail about potential housing and site realities for your project.
Peace Corps/Nicaragua’s site and housing policy guides the selection of safe and accessible locations for all assignments that have viable work options. All Volunteers are required to live with a host family throughout training and during their first six weeks at their project site. Due to remoteness, and/or few housing options, some sites will require Volunteers to live with families for the duration of their service. The Peace Corps recommends that Volunteers live with a family throughout their service, as it enriches Volunteers’ Peace Corps experience while enhancing their safety and acceptance by the community. When independent housing options are available, Volunteers are permitted to rent homes that meet the Peace Corps’ housing criteria. While some sites have two or more Volunteers, only married Volunteers can share housing during their service. Most Volunteers live within a one- to two-hour walk or bus ride from another Volunteer.
When you are sworn in as a Volunteer, you will be required to submit a site locator form that will enable Peace Corps to locate and communicate with you throughout your service. Peace Corps staff will periodically visit you at your site to provide personal, professional, and medical support and guidance.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer in Nicaragua, you will receive four types of allowances. The first is a living allowance to cover your basic living expenses, such as rent, utilities, food, household supplies, clothing, local travel, recreation, and entertainment.
The living allowance is reviewed once a year through a market survey to ensure that it is adequate. The amount of the allowance varies based on the cost of living in different regions of the country, and is paid in local currency. It is deposited once a month into a Nicaraguan bank account that you will maintain. You are likely to find that you receive more remuneration than your Nicaraguan counterpart or supervisor.
You will also receive a vacation allowance of $24 per month, deposited in a local bank account in U.S. dollars, and a onetime settling-in allowance for the purchase of basic household items. Finally, if the Peace Corps asks you to travel for either programmatic, medical, or other reasons, you will be reimbursed for hotel, transportation, and meals. The administrative officer (AO) will determine the appropriate amount and method of payment.
Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably within the monthly living allowance, although some bring money from home to help pay for out-of-country vacation travel. Volunteers are responsible for managing their own resources. The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to maintain a lifestyle similar to that of the people with whom they live and work.
To obtain cash (in córdobas or U.S. dollars), a variety of ATM machines are available in Managua and in select large cities throughout the country. Travelers checks are increasingly more inconvenient to use, and can only be cashed for a fee at a few banks in the capital. U.S. dollars are accepted at most businesses in Managua and other major cities. Credit cards are accepted in many establishments in Managua and in some major cities throughout the country; they are useful for vacations and travel.
Trainees and Volunteers are responsible for the safety and replacement of their own property and personal documents. The Peace Corps provides information about personal property insurance at staging and will, upon request, arrange a withdrawal from your readjustment allowance account to pay insurance premiums. Insurance should be renewed every year.
Food and Diet
The staples of the Nicaraguan diet are beans, rice, eggs, dairy products, meats, and foods made with corn (e.g., tortillas, nacatamales, and pinolillo, a popular beverage made with ground corn and cocoa). A wide variety of fruits and vegetables are grown locally, from cabbages and carrots to pineapples and papayas. Their availability varies by the season and access to markets. As a result of the endemic poverty in Nicaragua, most Nicaraguans’ daily diet consists of gallo pinto, a mixture of red beans and rice fried in vegetable oil, which might be accompanied by corn tortillas, cabbage salad, a small amount of meat or chicken, or locally made salty cheese. Most dairy products are made in a traditional fashion in rural settings and thus are not pasteurized.
The food generally is not spicy, and many Volunteers find that Nicaraguans use too much oil, salt, and sugar for their taste. Many Volunteers enjoy frescos—a concoction of freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices mixed with water and sugar that comes in many distinct flavors. In coastal areas, Volunteers find fresh fish and occasionally even lobster or shrimp. Beef, pork, and chicken are widely available throughout the country, but cuts of red meat differ greatly from those found in the United States. It is difficult to find meats that meet U.S. standards for flavor and quality.
It is possible to maintain a vegetarian diet in Nicaragua. However, there is greater variety and availability of certain foodstuffs in Managua than in outlying areas. It is important to note that Nicaragua is a beef-producing country, and some Nicaraguans, particularly in rural areas, will not understand vegetarianism. As a vegetarian, you will need to develop a culturally sensitive approach to declining to eat meat.
Since you will be living with a Nicaraguan family during training and the first six weeks at your site, you will be immediately exposed to Nicaraguan eating habits and methods of food preparation. Host families receive information regarding any special dietary concerns Volunteers have but are not expected to prepare U.S.-style meals for them. Although the families are generally quite accommodating, you should be prepared to have less control over your diet while living with a host family.
Some Volunteers who are living on their own cook for themselves to have more control over their diet. Volunteers who cook enjoy exploring new ways to use the local foods available, and often share these recipes with their Nicaraguan friends and family. Other Volunteers may pay a local family to take meals with them.
Most Volunteers travel in Nicaragua on commercial public buses; a very small number of sites are accessible by ferry or panga (passenger only) boats. For the vast majority of Volunteers, traveling to and from site entails a ride in an old school bus, which may be overcrowded, slow, and sometimes unreliable. At more rural sites, Volunteers may be required to travel in converted flatbed trucks, as the rough terrain makes bus passage impossible. Volunteers are not permitted to own, drive, or ride on motorcycles or to own or drive other motorized vehicles at any time during their service. Only when Volunteers are on authorized vacation may they drive, should they choose to rent a vehicle. Violation of these policies may be grounds for termination of service.
Most Volunteers get around their site and visit nearby communities on foot or use locally available transportation methods. Some Volunteers find that travel by bicycle is the most practical way to get around at their site, and purchase them with their settling in allowance. Though bicycles bought locally are not of the same quality as those available in the United States, they are more than sufficient for Volunteer transportation needs. Volunteers may bring a bicycle from the U.S. if they pay any additional air freight costs. (Note that bringing a bicycle from home is not recommended for several reasons: 1) it is impossible to know the realities of your site and transportation needs until you actually get there—a bike may not be appropriate or necessary; 2) it may be difficult to find the appropriate parts for maintenance; 3) owning a bike that is not available locally will set you apart from your host country colleagues and friends; and 4) it can make you a target for crime. If you choose to ride a bike, helmet use is mandatory. Noncompliance with Peace Corps’ worldwide mandatory helmet use policy can be grounds for administrative separation.
In very few instances, Volunteers also own or rent horses to travel from home to isolated communities and farms. You should familarize yourself with your site and consult your program manager regarding appropriate methods of transportation.
Geography and Climate
Nicaragua can be divided into four geographic areas: the coastal area between the lakes and the Pacific Ocean; the Great Rift, a low depression in which Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua lie; the central highlands to the north and east of the rift; and the Caribbean lowlands, which account for more than 40 percent of the land area but only 10 percent of the population. The climate varies with the region, but Nicaragua generally is hot and tropical, with cool, comfortable nights and a very short dry or cool season. The eastern third of the country, composed of the eastern slopes of the central highlands and the Caribbean lowlands, has a wet, tropical climate, with little or no dry or cool season. The climate of the central highlands is locally variable because of its ridge and valley topography, but generally it is an area of moderate temperatures and year-round rainfall. The Pacific area experiences a distinct tropical wet season (May through November) and tropical dry season (December through April). Temperatures there are more comfortable in the dry season because of lower humidity.
Social activities will vary depending on where you are located and the size of your site. Nicaraguans are generally kind and open, and thus celebrations of all types are common. You are encouraged to become a part of your community and participate in family celebrations, local dances, and folkloric activities as long as they occur in safe environments. The U.S. Marines introduced baseball to Nicaragua in the early 1900s, and it is now the national sport. Most communities have baseball teams and weekend games. Soccer and volleyball are growing in popularity throughout the country among both men and women.
You will be expected to fully integrate into your community. This means you will spend the vast majority of your time in your Peace Corps site, including weekends and most of your free time. Volunteers occasionally visit nearby Volunteers or go to a regional center to watch a movie, use the Internet, have a special meal, buy needed supplies, or just relax in a place with air conditioning. Volunteers are discouraged from spending leisure time in Managua because of the heat and security concerns. Peace Corps/Nicaragua maintains strict policies regarding trips away from site.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
A Volunteer assignment is a professional position. Although a few of you might work in informal settings, you will be expected to act and dress professionally. Almost all Volunteers spend some of their time working in local schools, and thus are seen as community leaders and mentors. More specific information on dress codes and teachers’ roles is available in your Volunteer Assignment Description. You will receive an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training. As a Volunteer, you will have the status of an invited guest and thus must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your Nicaraguan hosts. Your effectiveness as a development worker, satisfaction as a Volunteer, and safety as a foreigner living in a community will all be enhanced by professional behavior. Behavior that jeopardizes the Peace Corps’ mission in Nicaragua or your personal safety cannot be tolerated by the Peace Corps and could lead to administrative separation—a decision on the part of the Peace Corps to terminate your service. The Volunteer Handbook provides more information on the grounds for administrative separation.
Nicaraguans consider personal appearance an important individual characteristic. Proper dress can help establish your credibility as a professional, and it reflects your respect for the local customs and expectations of the people with whom you live and work. Inappropriate dress, like inappropriate behavior, is something that can set Volunteers apart from their communities.
The best guideline is to dress as your Nicaraguans colleagues do. Nicaraguans dress professionally casual: neat, clean, ironed. You should bring casual professional attire for all venues when you are working. Appropriate attire may include cotton pants (nice khakis are acceptable), nice cotton shirts and/or blouses (not T-shirts), and as much as possible, cotton skirts or dresses for women (not mini length). Neat blue-jeans (dark and not bleached out) are acceptable but can be hot in this weather. Neither shorts nor faded T-shirts are appropriate for male or female Volunteers in the workplace. Dresses or shirts that are tight or spaghetti-strap tank tops are also not appropriate work attire. Comfortable walking shoes or sandals are suitable; however, Nicaraguans view “Teva” or “Chaco” style sandals as inappropriate for the work environment. Shorts and tennis shoes are acceptable sports wear but should not be considered appropriate for work.
During training, you will be expected to observe the same clothing guidelines. Shirts and shoes must be worn at all times. Shorts and spaghetti-strap tank tops may not be worn at the Peace Corps office or for any official Peace Corps activity. Visable body piercings are not permitted for trainees, nor are they appropriate for Volunteers at schools or other workplaces. Earrings, dreadlocks, and ponytails are not permitted for male Volunteers during service.
Keep in mind that conforming to local norms is a small sacrifice for the great adventure and lasting friendships that await you.
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the "Your Health Care and Safety in Nicaragua" section, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks.
Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Nicaragua. While we provide you the tools and information to minimize risks, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Being a Volunteer in Nicaragua can be both highly rewarding and terribly frustrating. This is one reason why serving in the Peace Corps is often called “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” A trainee often arrives with idealistic notions of wanting to save the forest, find new ways to increase food production to decrease hunger and malnutrition, or develop new local products that will make a community or business owner rich. But then frustrations often arise over the difficulty of getting things accomplished, the lack of support from local counterparts, and the obstacles of poverty and poor education.
You might struggle to perfect the language, adapt to certain Nicaraguan customs, or find sufficient financial resources. The family or church just down the street from your house might play loud music every night, or the rooster next door might begin crowing each morning at 2:00 a.m. You are certain to miss your family and friends back home.
But over time, your initial idealism is likely to be replaced by a sense of practicality. Saving the forest becomes planting a few trees to protect a watershed. Feeding a nation becomes feeding a family. Revolutionizing a business becomes helping a business run better. One hopes that you will not see this as a loss of idealism but, rather, a realization that development comes from small but significant steps taken in partnership with your community.
To be successful as a Volunteer, you will need to be flexible, resourceful, and patient. 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 others with little guidance from supervisors. You will learn to take joy from the little things: the smiles and laughs of children walking to school, the welcome sound of rain on a zinc roof, the sparkle in a child’s eyes when he realizes that saving a tree means saving a bird, the comfort in a mother’s face when her baby is healthy and well nourished, the satisfaction of a business owner when she is able to pay her debts and save money.
When you complete your service in Nicaragua, you will leave knowing that you have not only overcome frustrations and obstacles but also made lasting friendships and helped people build better lives for themselves and their families. If you are committed to integrating into your community and working hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Upon your arrival in Nicaragua, you will participate in a three-day orientation that will provide you with basic, pertinent information on living in Nicaragua. You will find out about Peace Corps administrative issues as they pertain to Peace Corps training. Additionally, you will learn what the Peace Corps expects from you during training and what you can expect from the Peace Corps. You will have the opportunity to speak with current Volunteers in your project and ask questions about any initial medical concerns. After this orientation, you will begin living with a host family, spending Saturday night and Sunday with them before beginning pre-service training on Monday morning.
Peace Corps/Nicaragua uses a community-based training model that was pioneered in Nicaragua in January 1995. Many Peace Corps training programs worldwide have since adopted this model, in which most training activities take place in the community where one lives during training. This type of immersion has proven more successful than other methods in preparing Volunteers for the realities of service.
Training will consist of several components, including Spanish language, technical skills, cross-cultural awareness, the role of Volunteers in development, and health and safety issues. You will attend Spanish classes and carry out technical and cross-cultural tasks in your community Monday through Friday. On Wednesday and Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, the entire training group usually will come together for more formal training sessions. During training you will be regularly evaluated on your ability to acquire and demonstrate the language, technical, cross-cultural, and safety skills needed to be a Volunteer.
You will live with your host family for the entire 11-week training period. Two or three other trainees will live in the same community with different families, and you will study Spanish and carry out individual technical tasks together. Even though the entire training group will be spread out among five or six communities, Peace Corps staff members will be present on a daily basis. The training director and other Peace Corps staff will make frequent trips to each community to ensure that training objectives are being met.
Technical training is competency-based. This component of pre-service training will prepare you to work in Nicaragua by building on the skills you already have and helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate for your project goals. Peace Corps staff, Nicaraguan experts, and current Volunteers will facilitate the training sessions. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have to community members at your site.
Technical training will include sessions on the general economic and political environment in Nicaragua and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Nicaraguan agencies and organizations that have invited the Peace Corps to assist them. You will be supported and evaluated by the training staff so you can 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 essential to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance, they help you integrate into your host 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. Nicaraguan language instructors teach formal language classes five days a week in small groups of three to four people.
Your language training will incorporate the 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 help you achieve a level of basic social communication proficiency so that you can continue to develop language skills once you are at your site. Prior to being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Nicaraguan host family. This experience 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 Nicaragua. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
Cross-cultural and community development training will help you improve your communication skills and understand your role as a facilitator of the development process. You will be exposed to topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, project sustainability, nonformal and adult education strategies, and working with youth.
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, which include such topics as preventive health measures, and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in Nicaragua. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living situation, 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.
Special Note on Couples
Peace Corps/Nicaragua encourages married couples to participate in our program; couples have found service in Nicaragua to be very rewarding. More specific advantages and challenges to serving as couples are mentioned later on in this document. However, if you are considering service in Nicaragua, it is important to note that you will be separated during the 11-week pre-service training period. You will each live with a different host family and will most likely also be separated by training site. This will better enable you each to develop your language and technical skills separately, and to share in the rich cross-cultural experience of spending time with your own host family and community. The success in the training program will be due in large part to a couple’s willingness to put their individual learning objectives first, realizing that each person will need time and personal space to meet the challenges ahead and to fully engage in the training activities. Depending on the project, couples have varying opportunities to see one another as the training schedules permit. Please contact your placement officer or the country desk unit for more specific information.
Additional Training 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. During service, there are three primary training events. The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
- In-service training: Provides an opportunity 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.
- Midterm conference (done in conjunction with technical sector in-service): Assists Volunteers in reviewing their first year, reassessing their personal and project objectives, and planning for their second year of service.
- 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 NICARAGUA
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 Nicaragua maintains a clinic with two full-time and two part-time medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary health-care needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are available at a local, American-standard hospital. If you become seriously ill, and adequate care is not available in country, you will be medically evacuated to the United States, or possibly Panama.
Health Issues in Nicaragua
The most common health problems among Volunteers and the Nicaraguan population in general, which also occur in the United States, are upper respiratory infections and diarrhea. These problems may be more frequent, or compounded, by life in Nicaragua because certain environmental and cultural factors in the country raise the risk or exacerbate the severity of illnesses and injuries. Some gastrointestinal problems can be avoided by boiling drinking water and thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables before eating them.
Two additional major health concerns in Nicaragua are malaria and dengue fever. Because malaria is endemic here, the Peace Corps requires all Volunteers to take weekly antimalarial medication. The antimalarial medication currently approved by headquarters and used by Volunteers is chloroquine phosphate. Other options are available for individuals who can’t tolerate the side effects of chloroquine, though most Volunteers have no problems taking it. It is crucial that all Volunteers strictly follow medical office guidelines to prevent mosquito bites in addition to taking antimalarial profilaxis. You will also be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, tetanus/diphtheria, polio, typhoid, measels, mumps, rubella, and rabies as part of our preventive health program.
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 Nicaragua, you will participate in a series of medical sessions designed to assist you in assuming responsibility for your own health. At the beginning of training, you will receive a Peace Corps medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of this kit are listed later in this chapter.
During pre-service training, you will have access to additional basic medical supplies through the medical office. However, you will be responsible for your initial supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as the Peace Corps will not order these items during training. Therefore, please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, including birth control pills, since they may not be available in Nicaragua and it may take several months for shipments to arrive.
You will have medical and dental evaluations at the midpoint and end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during service, the medical officers in Nicaragua will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Nicaragua, you may be evacuated to the United States or Panama for further evaluation and care.
Peace Corps dental care supports an annual check-up and prophylaxis to perform routine cleaning and early identification and treatment of disease. Medical evacuation is not authorized for the purpose of annual check-ups. However, dental care, including annual check-ups, can be authorized to be performed in the U.S. if visiting there on personal business. Peace Corps does not provide dental care to treat aesthetic conditions (e.g., orthdontia, dental veneers, and whitening procedures) or to fix or correct pre-existing structural problems (e.g. malocclusion).
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 step in preventing malaria, dengue, and many other tropical diseases is to avoid bites by mosquitoes and other insects. In fact, you cannot get malaria or dengue fever if you are not bitten. The best ways to avoid bites are to sleep under a mosquito net, wear long sleeves and pants whenever possible, and use insect repellent. You will be given a mosquito net at the beginning of training. Since no one can entirely prevent all mosquito bites, you must take antimalarial medicine throughout your service; failure to do so is both risky and can lead to administrative separation from the Peace Corps.
Parasitic infections come from eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. During training, you will learn how to properly wash and prepare foods and how to boil your drinking water. You will also receive training on how to recognize symptoms and what immediate actions to take if such symptoms occur.
Nicaragua has a significant number of cases of STDs, including HIV/AIDS. Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV 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. (The medical office provides condoms on request.) 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. Birth control pills are available without charge from the medical officer. If you are taking a specific contraceptive, you should bring a three-month supply since they may not be available in Nicaragua and may take several months to order. Also, your current brand of contraceptive may be changed to an equivalent or similar medication by the PCMO, should your brand prove difficult to obtain in-country.
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 the medical officer know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries. By maintaining open communication, we can work together to support a healthy and safe service for you.
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 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 can be met. Volunteers who become pregnant are typically medically separated.
A variety of feminine hygiene products are available locally, though a preferred brand may not be available. If you require a certain product, bring a sufficient supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer will provide you with a 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
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) 500 mg tablet
Chlorine water purification tablets
Dental floss (unwaxed)
Emergency First Aid Pocket Guide
Gauze pads (sterile)
Hibiclens antiseptic/germicial liquid soap
Hydrocortisone 1% cream
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) 200 mg tablets
Oral rehydration salts
Pseudoephedrine tablets (Sudafed)
Sepasoothe lozenges (sore throat)
Tempa-Dot thermometer (Farenheit)
Tetrahydrozaline HCL (eyedrops)
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 to obtain a copy of your immunization record and bring it with you to Nicaragua. 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 shortly after you arrive in Nicaragua. 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 supply. The Peace Corps will not provide or 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. The Peace Corps discourages you from using contact lenses during your 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; in addition, the amount of dust in the air can irritate. 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 health-care 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 health-care 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. Petty 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 83 percent of Volunteers surveyed 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 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 in the Volunteer’s control. Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2003, 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, 47 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the late evening between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.— most often occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: More than 75 percent of crime incidents occurred when a Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Almost a third 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; 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 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 Nicaragua as compared to all other Inter-America and Pacific (IAP) 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.
Security Issues in Nicaragua
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. You can reduce your risk by developing a security strategy that takes appropriate precautions, avoids uncomfortable situations, and takes you out of harms way. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities, especially Managua. People know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Bus terminals, large public gatherings, and tourist attractions in large towns, for instance, are favorite sites for pickpockets. The following are safety concerns in Nicaragua you should be aware of:
Volunteers have reported being robbed of their purse, watch, wallet, or other personal possessions while riding on a crowded bus or walking in an urban area at night. Most petty thieves want only your belongings, and Volunteers are always encouraged to give up personal items should they encounter a thief. The Peace Corps encourages you not bring to Nicaragua any item that you are not willing to lose or to carry items you would not be willing to give up.
Some Volunteers report having their houses broken into and personal items stolen. This typically happens when Volunteers leave their sites. Part of the Volunteer settling-in allowance is dedicated to home security items such as good locks and bars for doors and windows. A Peace Corps staff member will visit your home to inspect your housing conditions and make recommendations to maximize home security. You will receive more information on how to prevent petty theft and burglary during training, and you will receive routine visits to your site from the safety and security coordinator.
Alcohol abuse occurs at a higher rate in Nicaragua than in the United States, so you should avoid areas where there is heavy drinking, especially at night. As a professional, you are expected to adhere to high standards of behavior at all times. If you choose to drink, you must drink responsibly. Alcohol use by Volunteers is a common factor in incidents involving their safety. During training, you will learn how to recognize alcohol abuse and hear some of the real consequences for Volunteers who drank too much alcohol. Irresponsible behavior related to alcohol use is grounds for administrative separation from the Peace Corps.
Statistically speaking, the risk of sexual assault in Nicaragua isn’t substantially higher than in the U.S. Most sexual assaults in Nicaragua occur as a result of domestic violence.
Fortunately, very few Peace Corps Volunteers have been sexually assaulted. Women serving in Nicaragua should know that some men may see them as sexual objects, that friendships with men are not culturally the norm, and that they need to maintain a constant awareness of the threat of sexual assaults. “Come-ons” made by men to women as they walk by are common and can be especially offensive to American women. You will receive information during training on how to minimize your risks of sexual assault and harassment throughout your service.
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, develop a security strategy, use sound judgement, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Nicaragua, 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 Nicaragua will 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.
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 by using an under-garment money pouch, the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your pants. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in shirt pockets, or in fanny packs. In general walking around Managua is not safe or convenient; all Volunteers are required to use taxis at all hours of the day or night when in Managua. At your site, you should always consider walking with a companion.
Volunteers and trainees should bring only such personal property and cash with them as is necessary to maintain the modest standard of living expected of Volunteers. Given the substantial risk of theft and difficulty in safeguarding property overseas, do not bring excess cash or expensive or valuable items. A safe is available in the Peace Corps office to store valuable items you may choose to bring, such as your personal passport, credit cards, cash, etc.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer
Support in Nicaragua
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. Nicaragua’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Nicaragua 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 and safety and security coordinator. Yearly safety and security meetings for Volunteers are held in all departmental capitals to share regional experiences and receive relevant updates. 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 Nicaragua. This training will prepare you to develop a security strategy that involves adopting a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercising 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.
Strict site selection criteria are used to determine and approve Volunteers’ work sites. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure it meets the Peace Corps/Nicaragua’s site approval criteria related to adequate work options, housing, communications, basic infrastructure (availablility of basic foodstuffs and water), transportation options, and other support needs. 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.
You will also learn about Nicaragua’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 detailed site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Nicaragua 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 staff member. 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 CROSS-CULTURAL 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 Nicaragua, 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 Nicaragua.
Outside of Nicaragua’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 have blond hair and blue eyes. While the people of Nicaragua are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners, 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 Nicaragua, 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 Nicaragua
The Peace Corps staff in Nicaragua recognizes the 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. Peace Corps/Nicaragua encourages Volunteers to discuss issues of diversity among themselves and with staff so that we can understand and support one another better. Staff members are committed to supporting all Volunteers and undergo diversity training to improve their skills in this important endeavor.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Nicaragua has a culture where machismo is prevalent, and women’s traditional roles may be undervalued. While there have been quite a few female leaders in Nicaragua over the years, including former President Violeta Chamorro, most women still find their primary role in society to be in the home. There is a high dropout rate among girls in secondary school, a very high incidence of teenage pregnancy, and a high rate of irresponsible paternity, all of which reinforce the highly defined gender roles. Peace Corps/Nicaragua has a very active gender and development committee that works with Volunteers and Nicaraguans alike to raise consciousness and support culturally appropriate activities that address issues of gender inequality among girls, boys, women and men in the field.
Female Volunteers may find that being a single woman living alone is considered odd. They may receive more inappropriate and unwanted attention from men than they are accustomed to receiving. They may have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the respect of Nicaraguan colleagues in the workplace or they may experience resentment from Nicaraguan women for their male-like position of authority in the community. Female Volunteers should keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public to avoid developing an undesirable reputation in their community (e.g., wear conservative clothing, refrain from smoking in public, drinking in bars, or even dancing with men).
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
In Nicaragua, skin color can be the most common way people identify one another. Terms such as moreno (colored person), negro (black), chele (white), and Chino (Asian) are considered by many to be socially acceptable. Therefore, Volunteers of color face constant verbal and nonverbal reminders that their skin color is different from that of the majority. Nicaragua has a large Afro-Caribbean population along its east coast, so African-American Volunteers are often confused with people from those communities or believed to be from Cuba. Negative stereotypes sometimes exist as well.
After an initial settling-in period at their sites, however, most African-American Volunteers have very positive experiences living and working throughout Nicaragua. Hispanic Volunteers also face challenges. At first they are often thought to be Nicaraguans or Central Americans. Even when people realize they are neither, they commonly have difficulty believing Hispanics are “real” Americans. It may also be hard for community members to accept that a Hispanic Volunteer is not a native Spanish speaker. However, most Hispanic Volunteers find they are welcome and readily accepted in Nicaragua.
Asian-American Volunteers may be associated with characters in the martial arts movies that play repeatedly in urban areas of Nicaragua. Females may be viewed according to the mystique with which Asian women are often portrayed on television or in movies. Asian-American Volunteers may encounter stereotypes similar to those in the United States, such as the view that all Asians are extremely intelligent, good business people, and rich. Volunteers who are not of Chinese descent may be frustrated when Nicaraguans do not consider them Americans or associate them with a different ethnic background. For example, Korean-American Volunteers may be labeled as Chinese. For the most part, however, Nicaraguans are curious about and interested in the heritage of Asian Americans and welcome them into their homes and communities.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Respect comes with age in Nicaragua. Younger Volunteers may have to work harder than their older colleagues to be accepted as professionals. Older Volunteers may feel isolated among younger Volunteers, who may not be able to provide the desired personal support. In other instances, younger Volunteers may look to older Volunteers for advice. Some senior Volunteers find this a very enjoyable part of their Volunteer experience, while others choose not to fill this role.
During training, senior Volunteers may experience frustration in having most of their time and activities scheduled for them.
It may be difficult to adjust to living with a host family where you have to adapt to the family’s way of doing things. Also, adjustment to the learning environment, which includes intensive hands-on training, doing research, interviews and homework, may prove unexpectedly challenging. Another issue for some seniors in training is the feeling of being left out of the social activities, or not having the same interests as trainees in their 20s. At the same time, the life experiences that seniors bring with them to the training process can enrich others and provide a secure base to deal with the challenges that the cultural adaptation process brings.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
To fit into the conservative Nicaraguan culture, most Volunteers find that there are things about themselves that are better to not share with their neighbors. Most gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers find that it is more comfortable and convenient for them to be discreet about their sexual orientation with the people in their community because Nicaraguans generally view gay or lesbian relationships as morally wrong. Given the prejudices in the country toward gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, being “out” at one’s site could seriously jeopardize one’s professional image and effectiveness. Engaging in homosexual sex is prohibited by law in Nicaragua, but this law is not generally enforced.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Nicaragua is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, but an influx of Protestants, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other Christian denominations is changing the religious makeup of the country. Non-Christian groups are practically nonexistent, however, which can be a challenge for practicing Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and other groups. Most Nicaraguans are curious about and tolerant of other religions, but there is a lack of education about the history, beliefs, and practices of other faiths.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Nicaragua, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Nicaragua, as in other parts of the world, some people hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. In addition, there is little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.
As part of the medical screening 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 Nicaragua without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/Nicaragua staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Currently Peace Corps/Nicaragua has a number of married couples serving successfuly in-country. Being a married couple in the Peace Corps has its advantages and challenges. It helps to have someone by your side to share your experience with, but there are also cultural expectations that can cause stress in a marriage. The most important thing to remember is that you are in a foreign country with new rules. As long as you remain open-minded you will have a successful service. The possible issues listed below will also depend on the size of the community you will be living in.
In Nicaragua, a married man may be encouraged to be the more dominant member in the relationship. He may also be encouraged by the local culture to make decisions independent of his spouse’s views and to have his wife serve him. He may be ridiculed if he performs domestic tasks. On the other hand, a married woman may find herself in a less independent role than that to which she has been accustomed. She may also experience a more limited social life in the community than single Volunteers (since it may be assumed that she will be busy taking care of her husband). Additionally, she may be expected by the local culture to perform “traditional” domestic chores such as cooking or cleaning. Competition between a couple may become a difficulty, especially if one spouse learns faster than the other (e.g., language skills, job skills). There also may be differences in job satisfaction and/or different needs between spouses.
Younger Volunteers may look to couples for advice and support. Married couples also are likely to be treated with more respect because the community sees marriage as a responsibility. They may be asked when they will have children.
During pre-service training, couples will be placed in separate host families to aid in their individual language, cultural and technical learning process. In most instances, you will have opportunities for some kind of communication or periodic visits throughout this timeframe. Please contact the country desk unit or your placement officer for more information.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Nicaragua?
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 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 Nicaragua?
It is 110 volts—the same as in the United States. You might want to bring a two-pronged adapter for three-pronged grounded plugs. These are available in-country should you need one.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at a similar level as the people in their community. You will be given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which will cover your expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit and debit cards are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs. It is recommended that credit cards and extra cash be stored in the safe at the Peace Corps office.
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, medical, or travel assistance.
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 at staging. The Peace Corps encourages you to purchase personal articles insurance, and these related expenses can be deducated from your readjustment allowance. Volunteers should not take valuable items overseas without personal article insurance. 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 Nicaragua do not need to get an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating privately owned motorized vehicles. Most urban travel is by taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks or boats and lots of walking. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a sponsor’s vehicle, but this can occur only with prior written permission of the country director. Should this occur, a U.S. driver’s license will suffice.
What should I bring as gifts for Nicaraguan 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; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away. Additional gift items are school supplies for children. You can also take photos of you and your host family during your stay, and provide them with copies.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites until just before completing pre-service training. This gives 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 host agency counterparts. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on 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. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. There is usually one Volunteer based in each of the regional capitals. Some sites are 8 to 12 hours from Managua by public transportation; most are within 4 hours.
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; 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 Nicaragua?
The Nicaraguan telephone agency, ENITEL, has offices in most towns of more than 5,000 people and in all cities.
International calls are very expensive, so many Volunteers call home collect or use international calling cards such AT&T, MCI, and Sprint. More and more Volunteers visit one of the many Internet cafes that offer less expensive computer-tophone services. Many training host families have telephones in their homes. If not, there is public phone access in all the training communities. It is generally free to receive calls in Nicaragua.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
Cellphone coverage in the country is fairly broad. Differences in technology make many U.S. cellphones incompatible with the Nicaraguan cellular system (which utilizes a GSM network). Cellphones in Nicaragua are affordable. Should you decide that you would like a cellular phone for communication purposes, it is recommended that you purchase one locally from one of the many providers.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Most Volunteers serving in Nicaragua do not bring their personal laptops in-country. This is an individual choice. A personal computer can be difficult and expensive to maintain given the dust, heat, and humidity. Like other expensive items, a laptop can make you a target for crime, and it is recommended that you take out personal articles insurance to cover a potential loss. Volunteers have access to computers at the Peace Corps office, at local Internet cafes, and sometimes through their host agencies.
While some Volunteers find that having a laptop is helpful on a number of different levels, it is difficult to know what will be appropriate for your specific circumstances until you get here. Some Volunteers suggest waiting until you are settled into your community. In these instances, family or friends or family bring down their laptop on visits to the country.
This list has been complied by Volunteers serving in Nicaragua 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. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Nicaragua.
Used clothing from the United States is readily available all over Nicaragua, so some Volunteers recommend bringing less clothing and more personal items that may be expensive or hard to find in Nicaragua. Because clothes must be washed on concrete washboards, they tend to stretch and wear out quickly, so you may want to choose fabrics that hold their shape.
- Five or six pairs of pants, including jeans and lightweight cotton pants (agriculture, environment, and health Volunteers may want to bring more pairs for protection from insect bites while in the field), or dresses and skirts with tops (most women find these more comfortable than pants in the warm climate, and long ones are good when riding a bicycle)
- Two or three long-sleeved shirts or blouses
- Several short-sleeved shirts or blouses
- T-shirts and tank tops for casual wear (note that white ones tend to show dirt and bleach will wear them out quickly)
- Lightweight jacket, fleece sweatshirt, or cotton sweater for breezy days
- One dressy outfit for special occasions such as the swearing-in ceremony (sport coat or dress shirt and tie for men, nice dress or skirt ensemble for women)
- Rain gear: lightweight raincoat, poncho, or durable umbrella
- One or two swimsuits (regular bikinis are acceptable but thong bikinis are not)
- Three to five pairs of shorts, for casual wear
- Exercise wear (e.g., sports bras [hard to find locally] and bicycle shorts) as ome larger cities have gyms or aerobic classes
- Good supply of socks, which wear out quickly (those with a cotton-polyester blend last longer and dry quicker)
- Two-year supply of underwear; cotton is best (items of comparable quality to U.S. brands can be expensive)
- Sleepwear (especially important when living with a host family); lightweight long-sleeved tops and pants can help keep mosquitoes at bay
- Hat or cap for sun protectio
- One or two pairs of sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots (rubber soles last longer in rugged conditions)
- One or two pairs of shoes for professional wear (closedtoe shoes for men, dressy shoes or sandals for women)
- One pair of tennis or running shoes for sports
- One pair of sandals for casual wear, not appropriate for work attire (e.g., Tevas or Birkenstocks)
- Flip-flops or other shoes for the shower (also available locally) Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- A three- to six-month of tampons or sanitary napkins (the local selection is limited and more expensive than in the United States)
- Three-month supply of toothpaste, shampoo, soap, etc. for use during training
- Any special items you cannot live without, such as skin-care or hair-care products
- Medicated talc powder (for men)
Volunteers use the “settling-in” allowance provided by the Peace Corps to buy the essential items needed to set up a household, such as a bed, a gas stove, and a refrigerator. If you do not enjoy cooking, you should be able to arrange to eat at a neighbor’s house or at a small, family-style restaurant. For those who like to cook, the following are some items that are nice to have and may be difficult to find in Nicaragua.
- Garlic press
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Favorite cookbooks or recipes
- Special spices and flavorings (e.g., paprika, curry powder, sesame oil) Miscellaneous
The following items are suggestions for practical and comfort items. Many are available in-country. Use this list only as a guide; ultimately you should decide what you need, based on your personal style and preferences.
- Two sets of sheets (double-size flat sheets will fit any bed)
- Two lightweight bath towels and washcloths
- Swiss Army knife
- Sewing kit
- Travel iron
- Extension cord
- Money pouch
- Hair accessories
- Bandanas or handkerchiefs
- Costume jewelry (do not bring anything of great monetary or sentimental value)
- Scented candles or incense
- Expandable Chinese paper lanterns (an alternative to fluorescent light)
- Maps and posters for decorating your home
- Two pairs of good-quality sunglasses
- Large duffel bag or hiking backpack with plastic containers inside for protecting belongings from mold and bugs
- U.S. stamps (Volunteers traveling home often are happy to mail letters for you)
- Headlamp (and batteries) for late-night trips to the latrine or for riding a bike at night
- Gardening gloves and tools
- Tape or CD player with plug-in speakers
- Shortwave radio (for news programs such as Voice of America)
- Rechargeable batteries and charger (most batteries are available in Nicaragua at reasonable prices, but rechargeable batteries are hard to find and expensive)
- Water bottle (e.g., Nalgene)
- Pictures of family and friends to share with members of your community (they come in handy when you are trying to practice your Spanish and talk about home)
- Inexpensive battery-powered watch and/or travel alarm clock
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 six-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 health care 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.