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For the official Welcome Book for Niger see here
PEACE CORPS / NIGER HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Niger
The Peace Corps entered Niger in 1962 with seven Volunteers teaching English. Programming continued to be centered on education through the 1960s. In later years, in response to the expressed needs of the government of Niger, the program expanded to include health, agriculture, and environmental conservation.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Niger
Currently, Volunteers in Niger are in four programs: agriculture, natural resources management, community health, and community and youth education. Those in the first three programs are stationed in small (200–1,000 population) rural villages, while education Volunteers are in regional capitals, small towns, and large rural villages. A few Volunteers are assigned to work with special projects and local or international NGOs.
The Peace Corps works with government agencies to place Volunteers from the different sectors in villages located within a 30-mile (50-kilometer) radius of regional towns where government service agencies are located. This clustering permits mutual support and synergy. For example, community health Volunteers might work to raise awareness of the importance of vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables while agriculture Volunteers demonstrate irrigated gardening and fruit tree propagation. Education Volunteers may work with village-based Volunteers to promote girls’ education or adult literacy.
Most Volunteers in Niger stay at their initial sites for the duration of their two-year assignment. Some extend their stay in Niger for a third year to work as Volunteer leaders or with international organizations and nongovernmental organizations.
There are currently about 120 Volunteers in Niger—the number varies throughout the year as new groups arrive and those completing their service depart. About 60 percent are female. Almost all are under 40 years of age, and most are recent college graduates, ages 22 to 25.
The Peace Corps office in Niamey includes administrative and program offices; a medical unit with a five-bed infirmary; a warehouse; a motor pool; and an information resource center and lounge, where Volunteers can gather information for projects, write reports, hold planning meetings, and just relax.
There is a Volunteer transit house in Niamey for the use of Volunteers who are visiting the capital, and there are Peace Corps offices and transit houses in several regional towns.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW:NIGER AT A GLANCE
People have lived in Niger since prehistoric times, when the Sahara was much wetter and supported abundant wildlife. Hunter-gatherer societies left some magnificent rock art to record their presence. Islam came to Niger across the Sahara in the 12th century and gradually spread throughout the country. There were several Muslim kingdoms that spread into what are now Chad, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali.
In the late 19th century, the French extended their colonial rule from the Atlantic eastward through Chad, and Niger became part of French West Africa. It gained its independence in 1960.
At independence, Niger became a constitutional democracy, with an elected president and a National Assembly. However, there have been frequent military coups and a great deal of political instability.
A 1996 military coup led to the departure of many international aid agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development. In late 1999, however, democratic elections were held, and the new government of President Mamadou Tandja brought renewed stability. Tandja was reelected in 2004, and elections were also held for the newly created local government bodies. With the restoration of democracy, many international donors returned, and there has been renewed economic growth.
Niger’s harsh climate, geographic isolation, lack of natural resources, environmental degradation, and rapid population growth (3.6 percent annually) make it one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 177 out of 177 on the 2005 United Nation’s Human Development Index. The per capita GDP in 2003 was $185. All of Niger’s economic and social indicators are grim. The following indicators are from a United Nations Population Fund report released in 2005:
- Per 1,000 children born, 255 die before their fifth birthday.
- Fifty-one percent of school-age children attend primary school.
- Twenty-seven percent of the population over age 15 is literate.
- Forty-six percent of households have access to potable drinking water.
- Forty percent of children under five are below normal weight; 20 percent are emaciated.
The majority of the people you work with will be concerned primarily with meeting basic needs that are taken for granted in much of the rest of the world.
Niger has few natural resources. There are large uranium deposits near Arlit in the northern part of the country, and in the 1970s, a worldwide uranium boom ushered in a brief period of strong economic growth and infrastructure improvements. In 1980, however, with the decline of the nuclear power industry, the uranium market collapsed and Niger entered a period of rapid economic deterioration, aggravated by recurrent droughts and political instability. A recent World Bank study found that the average Nigerien is worse off today than three decades ago.
Millet, a type of grain, is the staple food in most of the country. To be eaten, it must be pounded into flour, which is then cooked and eaten with a sauce of vegetables or occasionally meat. Sorghum, which is also grown, is prepared similarly. Along the Niger River, which runs through the southwestern part of the country, rice and other irrigated crops are common, and rice is a common food in urban areas.
People and Culture
The ethnic groups represented in Niger are Hausa (56 percent), Djerma (22 percent), Fulani (8.5 percent), Tuareg (8 percent), and several others. More than 90 percent of the population is Muslim. Adherents of Islam in Niger tend to be more moderate and tolerant than the fundamentalists who often make headlines in the Western media, and there has been no terrorist activity by such groups in Niger. Indigenous belief systems and Christianity also have numerous practitioners.
French is the official language. It is widely spoken in urban areas and commonly used in government offices, international and nongovernmental organizations, and the media. However, learning one or more of the national languages (Hausa, Djerma, Fulfulde, Tamashek, and others—each tending to predominate in different regions) is a must for living in rural areas and becoming integrated into the community.
Niger is a large country—almost twice the size of Texas—with a very hot and dry climate. The northern two-thirds of its territory lie within the Sahara Desert, and most of its 12 million people live in the semi-arid zone across the southern third of the country known as the Sahel. About 80 percent are subsistence farmers and herders who use the same production techniques that have been practiced for hundreds of years, while the rest live in Niamey (the capital, a city of about 1 million people) and a few towns, such as Maradi, Zinder, Agadez, Tahoua, Dosso, and Diffa.
Increasing population pressure on the limited amount of arable land and a prolonged dry cycle over the past four decades have resulted in severe loss of vegetative cover (grasses, shrubs, and trees) and an accompanying decline in soil fertility. Desertification, the process of land degradation associated with the gradual southward creep of the Sahara, has affected a substantial area in Niger. Despite extensive development efforts, Niger suffers from periodic droughts and famines and is barely self-sufficient in food production even in relatively good years.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Niger 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.
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 Niger
http://www.countrywatch.com On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Niamey to how to convert from the dollar to the CFA franc. Just click on Niger and go from there.
Visit this site to learn all you need to know about Niger from a traveler’s perspective.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically on the social and political history of countries around the world.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments worldwide. Scroll down to Niger.
This online atlas includes maps and geographical information. Search for Niger to find information and 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.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about countries around the world.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
Ask Niger Volunteers anything: What should I bring? Will I be alone? Is there running water? Can I buy sugar?
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local volunteer activities.
The site of the Niger returned Volunteers organization
This site is known as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web Ring. Browse the Web ring and see what returned Volunteers are saying about their service.
An independent news forum for returned Volunteers
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 Niger
A site with links to a variety of information about Niger, hosted by a returned Peace Corps Volunteer
Africa-America Institute site that aggregates and indexes content from more than 100 African news organizations
Brief news stories on Niger, sometimes confused with stories on the state of Niger in neighboring Nigeria (also available in French)
Information on food and agriculture in Niger (in French)
Provides links to a number of interesting sites on Niger
Country-specific data and links for West Africa, including Niger
International Development Sites About Niger
CARE’s page on Niger
Information about the Carter Center’s Guinea worm eradication program (search for Niger)
Information about UNICEF’s work in Niger
Africare’s work in Niger
Catholic Relief Services’ page on Niger
- Beckwith, Carol, and Marion Van Offelen. Nomads of Niger. Abradale Press, 1993. Book of photographs.
- Chilson, Peter. Riding the Demon: On the Road in West Africa. Atlanta: University of Georgia Press, 1999. Account of a former Volunteer’s experiences with a bush-taxi driver.
- Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Niger. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1979. Description of the people and historical events through 1976; includes a bibliography.
- De Gramont, Sanche. Strong Brown God: The Story of the Niger River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991. Epic history of early European explorers of the Niger River written by a Pulitzer Prize winner.
- Diatta, Haoua. Shadow of Africa: Life of an African Ambassador’s Wife. 2000. Written by the wife of the Nigerien ambassador to the United States, this book gives a rare insight into the history, culture, and international politics of Africa and Niger.
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
- Redmon, Coates. Come As You Are: The Peace Corps Story. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986. Though out-of-print, this is a very entertaining read that can be found used with ease on the internet
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, CA: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, WA: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, NY: Picador, 2003.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, NY: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine (ed.). From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, CA: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.S. standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately, this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen).
Mail service in Niger is relatively good compared with that in other African countries. Letters and packages mailed from the United States by air (or from Niger to America) usually take two to six weeks to arrive. Packages mailed by surface typically take six months or more, so this method is not recommended. Note that incoming packages are subject to customs duties (generally small).
Despite the delays, we strongly encourage you to write to your family regularly and to number your letters. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so it is a good idea to advise them that mail is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. You might also suggest that family and friends number their letters for tracking purposes and write “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on the envelopes. You should bring a supply of U.S. stamps for sending mail to the United States via travelers. DHL service is available in Niger, and though it is very expensive, this is the best way to mail valuable or time-sensitive items such as airplane tickets.
Your mailing address in Niger will be:
Name of Trainee/Volunteer
Corps de la Paix
Cellphone service is becoming increasingly more available throughout the country; many Volunteer villages have cellphone coverage, however, your relatives and friends should be prepared for significant changes in the regularity, reliability, and speed of communication you currently enjoy.
Computers, Internet, and E-mail Access
There are increasing numbers of private telecenters and Internet cafes in larger towns. These generally work well for e-mail, but Internet access is both slow and expensive. Volunteers can access e-mail at the Peace Corps office in Niamey and at regional Peace Corps offices, but not at the training center.
Housing and Site Location
Most agriculture, environment, and community health Volunteers live in villages of 200 to 1,000 people within a few miles of other Volunteers and roads served by public transportation. You may be anywhere from 60 to 750 miles (100 to 1,200 kilometers) from Niamey. You are likely to be one of only a handful of people—perhaps the only person—in the village with anything beyond the equivalent of a sixth-grade education. Many sites have a rural health clinic or a primary school, but some do not. Housing is provided by each village and consists of a traditional one- or two-room house of adobe brick with an adobe or thatch roof. Most Volunteer houses have a small yard surrounded by an adobe or thatch enclosure. The Peace Corps pays for the cementing of the floor of your house and bath/toilet area and provides screens for doors and windows.
There will be no running water or electricity. You will obtain your water from a well and rely on a kerosene lamp or candles for light in the evening. Most of the year, you will sleep outside, with only a mosquito net, which the Peace Corps provides, between you and the stars. You will become adept at using a squat latrine and taking a bucket bath—pouring water over yourself from a bucket. Although it may sound like a two-year camping trip (and in some ways it is), your site will become your home. With time, you will find ways to make yourself comfortable, and soon enough, you will forget how strange some of these conditions once seemed.
Education Volunteers are posted in small towns of 10,000 to 100,000 people, located near clusters of rural-based Volunteers. Housing consists of a small mud brick or cement house or an apartment provided by the government of Niger. The towns have the education infrastructure and partners you will need in your assignment. Some of the towns have Peace Corps regional offices, headed by a Volunteer regional representative. There may also be Volunteers working with international and nongovernmental organizations such as UNICEF and CARE. Most of these sites are on the main road that crosses the country from east to west.
Although running water and electricity are available in most towns, there may be limited hours of electricity use and frequent power failures.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer in Niger, you will receive four types of allowances. The first is a living allowance to cover your basic living expenses. This allowance is reviewed at least once a year through a survey of Volunteer expenses to ensure that it is adequate. The living allowance is paid in local currency (CFA francs) and is intended to cover the cost of food, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, transportation, reading materials, and other incidentals. Volunteers typically find that this allowance is more than adequate for maintaining their health and wellbeing, and you are therefore discouraged from supplementing the allowance with money from home. You will find that you receive more remuneration than your Nigerien counterpart or supervisor.
You will also receive a vacation allowance of $24 per month, paid quarterly in CFA francs along with your living allowance. After you are sworn-in as a Volunteer, you will receive a onetime settling-in allowance to purchase items you need to set up your house, such as a bed, pots, and dishes. The Peace Corps will supply you with a tabletop gas stove for cooking, a mosquito net, a water filter, a basic medical kit, and a bicycle and helmet.
If the Peace Corps requires you to travel, you will also be given additional money for transportation and meals. This amount is established by the administrative officer based on the actual cost of transportation and lodging.
Although most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Niger with these four allowances, many Volunteers bring money (in U.S. traveler’s checks) or credit cards for out-of-country travel. You are strongly discouraged from supplementing your income with money from home. The living allowance is adequate, and it is important for Peace Corps Volunteers to live at the economic level of their neighbors and colleagues.
Retail stores in Niger do not accept credit cards. For safekeeping, you can store money, passports, and other valuables in the Peace Corps office safe in Niamey.
Food and Diet
Although the local diet is heavy on starches (millet, sorghum, and rice), Volunteers use creativity, home gardens, and provisions from stores in larger towns to maintain an adequately diverse diet. The limited supply of fresh fruit and vegetables and their extreme seasonality make it difficult to maintain a strict vegetarian diet. During the hot season, it is often difficult to find fresh vegetables in villages. Nonetheless, there are Volunteers who are strict vegetarians and who remain healthy by making an extra effort to ensure adequate nutrition. Others become meat eaters during their service in Niger. Meat is sometimes difficult to find in villages, but it is always available in larger towns. Bread is available in towns and larger villages, and there are small stores where you can usually find imported foods such as pasta, tuna, cornflakes, and so on.
The villages in which rural-based Volunteers live are typically located within nine or so miles (15 kilometers), usually less, of a road serviced by public transportation. Volunteers must walk or bike from their village to wherever there is regular road traffic. Depending on the region, the available vehicle for which the generic term is “bush taxi” might be anything from a station wagon to a Land Rover to a minibus, varying in age from nearly new (very rare) to older than you are. Vehicles are usually crowded and uncomfortable and are subject to frequent breakdowns. On the two major highways (eastwest and north-south), large buses provide regular service. Volunteers are often able to hitch rides with Peace Corps staff members, who visit Volunteers frequently, and with vehicles operated by various foreign aid projects.There are also regular monthly shuttles to and from the transit houses by Peace Corps vehicles. In larger towns, taxis are available for local transportation.
All Volunteers are issued good-quality bicycles and are given training in their maintenance. They are also issued helmets, which are required for riding at all times. If the area is not too sandy, Volunteers often use bicycles for transportation from their villages to regional transit houses or to visit neighboring Volunteers.
Geography and Climate
Except for a mountainous area in the northern Sahara, Niger is mostly flat, with some low hills, ridges, and rainy-season riverbeds. The Niger is the only major river. The climate is harsh, ranging from extremely hot (over 120 degrees Fahrenheit and rarely below 90 degrees) in April and May to dry and cool between November and February when the nights are cool enough (as low as 40 degrees in northern areas) to require a blanket and the days cool enough to require warm clothes. Winds off the Sahara sometimes make the air very dusty. The rainy season, from June through late September, is characterized by periods of increasing heat and humidity punctuated by violent, brief downpours. Rain is very unlikely at other times of the year.
Nigeriens are very social people, and individuals who are not social may be viewed suspiciously. Hanging out, talking, and laughing are desirable. Even if you do not talk a lot, hanging out quietly with Nigeriens is viewed as being social. Privacy and solitude, on the other hand, are viewed as undesirable by most Nigeriens, and your friends and neighbors will attempt to ensure that you are never alone (except, of course, when going to the latrine, taking a bath, getting dressed, etc.). In many cases, this is because they have never encountered someone of such a different background—they are only trying to be good hosts and friends. But if you establish your personal limits early on, you will find that with time and patience you and your neighbors will reach a comfortable understanding.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Being well dressed with clean clothes is important in Niger. Though their country is hot, dusty, and poor, Nigeriens take a lot of pride in their personal appearance. It can be insulting, even to people you know well, to wear clothing that is torn, dirty, or too revealing in any setting other than your house or while performing hard physical labor. This is not to imply that you need dress clothes for work. Collared shirts and casual slacks or jeans for men, and blouses and below-the-knee skirts or dresses for women, are acceptable. (Pants for women are also acceptable in some areas.) Lightweight cotton or other fabrics made for the tropics are best. Tank or sleeveless tops, shorts, and tight-fitting clothes (e.g., items made of Lycra, tight jeans) are not acceptable for men or women. You can have appropriate, inexpensive clothing made by local tailors.
Although officially secular, Niger is an Islamic country, and most people—especially in the countryside—are devout and conservative in dress and behavior. Alcohol is available in larger towns, but public drinking and boisterous behavior are considered inappropriate. Drugs are illegal and socially taboo, as well as strictly prohibited by Peace Corps regulations. Public display of affection between the sexes is considered improper.
Information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety 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 Niger 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 Niger. However, you are expected to take significant responsibility for your own safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
You would be correct in concluding, after reading this book, that serving as a Volunteer in Niger is an extraordinarily difficult assignment. Living in a mud hut in an isolated village with no electricity or running water, learning new languages, functioning in a culture far different from your own, being face-to-face with grinding poverty, lacking a structured work environment—these are just a few of the challenges you will face. Work will proceed at an excruciatingly slow pace from the Western perspective, and there will be times when you will wonder if change is taking place at all.
Impatience and overexcitement due to frustration are viewed by Nigeriens as personality weaknesses and will rarely, if ever, produce a favorable result. Rather than losing your cool, you are better off making fun of the situation with a couple of wry comments or a proverb in a local language.
Despite these frustrations and bouts of doubt, with patience and perseverance you will ultimately make a significant contribution to your assigned community in Niger. Moreover, you will have considerable flexibility and the opportunity to exercise your initiative and creativity. Along the way, you will learn a great deal—about Nigeriens, about living in a developing country, about poverty, about who you are, and about what it means to be an American in the global context. You will make close friends and be amazed by their hospitality and ability to cope with extreme adversity. When your assignment is over, you will join 3,000 returned Volunteers from Niger who view their service here as one of the most interesting, formative, and worthwhile periods in their lives. And your service will continue for the rest of your life as you share what you have learned with others.
The Peace Corps, particularly in Niger, is not for everyone. The level of motivation and commitment required to successfully serve here exceeds that needed in most other work environments. If you are up to the challenge, we look forward to working with you.
How will living and working in communities affected by HIV/AIDS affect me?
The AIDS pandemic strikes across all social strata in many Peace Corps countries. The loss of teachers has crippled education systems, while illness and disability drains family income and forces governments and donors to redirect limited resources from other priorities. The fear and uncertainty AIDS causes has led to increased domestic violence and stigmatizing of people living with HIV/AIDS, isolating them from friends and family and cutting them off from economic opportunities. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will confront these issues on a very personal level. It is important to be aware of the high emotional toll that disease, death, and violence can have on Volunteers. As you strive to integrate into your community, you will develop relationships with local people who might die during your service. Because of the AIDS pandemic, some Volunteers will be regularly meeting with HIV-positive people and working with training staff, office staff, and host family members living with AIDS. Volunteers need to prepare themselves to embrace these relationships in a sensitive and positive manner. Likewise, malaria and malnutrition, motor vehicle accidents and other unintentional injuries, domestic violence and corporal punishment are problems a Volunteer may confront. You will need to anticipate these situations and utilize supportive resources available throughout your training and service to maintain your own emotional strength so that you can continue to be of service to your community.
In Niger, unlike many other African countries, AIDS has not yet reached pandemic proportions, and other killer diseases, notably malaria, are much more common. The rate of HIV prevalence is about 1 percent, and victims are mostly concentrated in larger cities. Volunteers in Niger are unlikely to encounter AIDS victims unless they seek them out.
Overview of Pre-Service Training
An intensive eight- to nine-week pre-service training program at the Peace Corps training center in Hamdallaye (about 18.5 miles, or 30 kilometers, northeast of Niamey) will prepare you and approximately 30 other Volunteers for your service in Niger. Although the amount you need to learn is vast, you should think of pre-service training as the initial step in a continuing process of learning that will last for your entire stay in Niger.
Pre-service training will include French, one of the national languages (depending on where you are assigned), cross-cultural adaptation, guidelines for personal health and hygiene, development issues, safety and security issues, community entry skills, nonformal education techniques, and a few technical skills related to your particular project. In addition to language classes, there will be hands-on activities, field trips, readings, seminars, and self-directed learning. You will live with a Nigerien family (who speak the local language you are learning) in the village of Hamdallaye for most of the training. You will spend some time in the field with experienced Volunteers to observe and learn development skills and coping strategies.
During training, you will need to reevaluate your commitment to Peace Corps service in Niger. Participating in training is not a guarantee of becoming a Volunteer. While we fully expect you to be successful, there are definite goals and competencies you must attain before you can be sworn in as a Volunteer.
Technical training will prepare you to work in Niger by building on the skills you already have and by helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff, Nigerien experts, and current Volunteers will conduct the training program. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have to the community in which you will serve as a Volunteer.
Technical training will include sessions on the general economic and political environment in Niger and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and meet with the Nigerien agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them. The technical training element of pre-service training is largely introductory. You will learn more technical skills at an in-service training session that will be scheduled after you have been in your post for about three months.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance, they help you integrate into your community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings. Therefore, language training is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer. Experienced Nigerien language instructors teach formal language classes five days a week in small groups of four to five people.
Each Volunteer needs to become functional in a national language (Hausa, Zarma, or Tamashek). French is also important, especially for education and health Volunteers and for Volunteers who want to move into leadership positions and assignments with international and nongovernmental organizations. Keep in mind that many generations of Niger Volunteers have managed to become proficient in these languages and that you, too, are likely to do so. Self-study materials and ongoing tutoring will be available.
You are encouraged to review or begin to study French as soon as possible after accepting your invitation. Your local library or university language department should be able to suggest some resources. Peace Corps/ Niger in conjunction with Peace Corps/ Washington has developed a Zarma and Hausa learning tutorial that is available online at www.peacecorps.gov and can be accessed after you have accepted your invitation to serve. Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. Interested trainees are offered two nights per week of optional language tutoring. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills further on your own. Prior to being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Nigerien host family. This is the best way to learn about Nigeriens’ daily lives, diet, customs, and attitudes. Host families also assist in language learning and in introducing trainees to community activities. The Peace Corps takes great care in selecting the families who will host you. They understand what you will be trying to accomplish and are willing to assist you. Keep in mind that your ways are as different to them as theirs are to you. 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 development. You will be exposed to topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, nonformal and adult education strategies, and political structures.
Niger’s dry and dusty environment makes it difficult to maintain proper personal hygiene and health. Thus, one has to make an extra effort to remain healthy. The medical resources available are not comparable to those in the West or even in some neighboring African countries. Health can also be affected by the limited availability of fruits and vegetables in certain seasons.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You will be expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. Trainees are required to attend all medical sessions. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in Niger. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces your risks at home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional 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 your service, there are usually four training events. The titles and objectives 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 months.
- Regional language training: Helps Volunteers improve their language skills by focusing on regional dialects and job-related vocabulary.
- Midservice 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 training events are adapted to Niger-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 Peace Corps staff and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN NIGER
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. Peace Corps in Niger maintains a clinic with two full-time medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as radiology and dentistry, are also available in Niger at local clinics. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to a city in the region where more services are available or to the United States.
Health Issues in Niger
With careful adherence to the preventive measures you will be taught during pre-service training, it is possible to remain healthy throughout your service in Niger. However, sickness is more common, and standards of hygiene and food handling are lower, than in the United States. Although there is a great deal you can do to minimize risks, Volunteers do suffer gastrointestinal disorders, upper respiratory infections, and other medical problems from time to time.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications (including malaria prophylaxis), and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Niger, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training, you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs.
During pre-service training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical office. However, during this time, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for shipments to arrive.
You will have physicals at midservice and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officers in Niger will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be cared for in Niger, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept a certain amount of responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage “An ounce of prevention …” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Niger is to take preventive measures against disease.
Malaria, which is endemic in Niger, requires strict adherence to the prophylactic regime of mefloquine or doxycycline as well as the use of barrier methods such as mosquito nets and insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites. Failure to adhere strictly to the recommended malaria prophylaxis may result in administrative separation. Overexposure to the sun is also a risk, so it is important to wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. One must treat all minor wounds promptly to prevent them from becoming infected.
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These illnesses include gastrointestinal disorders such as food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, and typhoid. Your medical officers will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation for Niger during pre-service training.
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. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV or other STDs. You will receive more information from the medical officers about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. The medical officers can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let the medical officers know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care for the Volunteer. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that Peace Corps medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met.
Feminine hygiene products can be purchased in local markets, but they are expensive. The Peace Corps medical office in Niger supplies Volunteers with a limited selection of feminine hygiene products. You should bring a three-month supply of any products you will require during training. If you require a specific product for the rest of your stay, please bring a two-year supply with you or arrange to have supplies sent from home.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical office provides Volunteers with a medical kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
Acetaminophen 325 mg (Tylenol)
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Chlorine dropper bottle
Clomtimazole 1% antifungal cream
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Hydrocortisone cream 1%
Ibuprofen 400 mg
Stool sample kit
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL (Sudafed)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
White petroleum jelly
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, you should contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and take it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, both at your predeparture orientation and after you arrive in Niger. You will be given malaria prophylaxis tablets to take prior to departure.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service as long as these medications are documented in your overseas health records.
While awaiting shipment—which can take several months— you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements. You will be given multivitamin and calcium tablets to supplement your diet.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. We discourage you from using contact lenses during your service to reduce the risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Niger does not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. Moreover, Niger has frequent dust storms that can pose problems for contact lens wearers. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions, or replace or repair sunglasses, unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk.
Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.
The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information.
The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control. Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.— with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: Assaults ususally occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompannied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
- Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
- Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
- Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
- Carry valuables in different pockets/places
- Carry a “dummy” wallet as a decoy Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
- Live with a local family or on a family compound
- Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
- Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
- Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
- Make local friends
- Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security; Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed. After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provide support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/ trainees in Niger as compared to all other Africa region programs as a whole, from 2000–2004. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population.
It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps' classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What If You Become a Victim of a Violent Crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. The Office of Inspector General investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the regional security officers. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the regional security officer, the Office of Inspector General does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. The Office of Inspector General staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Security Issues in Niger
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Niger. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions in large towns, for instance, are favorite work sites for pickpockets. The following are safety concerns in Niger.
Motor vehicle accidents. “Bush taxis,” the most common mode of motorized transportation in rural areas, are often overloaded, poorly maintained, and unsafe. They should be avoided to the extent possible. Volunteers should not travel on roads and highways at night because of the high risk of accidents.
Robbery/burglary. In urban markets, bus stations, and other areas where crowds are present, purse snatching and pickpocketing are common. Money and other valuables should be kept secure. While unusual, theft can occur even in rural villages. Houses should be kept locked and valuables should be kept in a locked trunk when you leave your village.
Violent crime. Though this is very rare in rural villages, it is a growing concern in larger cities, particularly in Niamey, the capital. There are certain high-crime areas (which will be pointed out to you) that must be avoided. In cities, Volunteers should travel in groups of two or more at night.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Niger, do what you would do if you moved to a large city in the United States: Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Niger may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention whereever they are in Niger, 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 undergarment money pouch. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. You should always walk with a companion at night.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Niger
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. Niger’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
Peace Corps/Niger office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be offered in the newsletter and in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network. Thus, it is imperative that Volunteers keep the Peace Corps/Niger office informed of their whereabouts so that they can be contacted in the event of an emergency. If a Volunteer seems to be missing, even for a short period of time, we must assume something is wrong and initiate extensive search procedures.
Volunteer training will include sessions on specific safety and security issues in Niger. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout your two-year service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection is based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; different housing options and living arrangements; and other Volunteer support needs.
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Niger’s detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Niger will gather at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, Volunteers must immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps office. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
DIVERSITY AND CROSSCULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, our diversity poses challenges. In Niger, 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 Niger.
Outside of Niger’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 perception that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Niger are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Niger, 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 Niger
The Peace Corps staff in Niger recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
A challenge for Volunteers from groups with less representation in the Peace Corps may be the lack of a common background with other Volunteers in Niger.
Currently, the group of Volunteers in Niger is fairly homogenous: relatively young (mostly between 22 and 30) and largely Caucasian and middle class. Volunteers who have expressed a need for special support include those who are older than the majority, those who belong to minority ethnic groups, and those who are homosexual. If you are in such a category, you should come prepared to cope with being possibly the only senior, African American, Native American, Hispanic American, Asian American, Jew, gay, or lesbian in your training group or in the country.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Women’s roles are very distinct in Nigerien culture. Women are charged with caring for the family and work long, hard hours to prepare food, obtain water, and rear children. In addition, women do not enjoy the same level of equality as most women in the United States do. Few are educated—only 8 percent of women in Niger are literate—and very few hold responsible positions in government or other organizations. Many men have several wives. In strict Muslim households, especially in the eastern part of the country, women are sometimes cloistered (i.e., required to stay in their homes unless accompanied by their husband). Certain physically challenging tasks, including pounding millet and drawing water, are considered exclusively women’s work and are not done by men. These cultural practices can be shocking to some Volunteers. However, almost all find that they can work successfully with both women and men in Niger.
Female Volunteers have much more freedom than Nigerien women and are not expected to adhere strictly to gender roles. This provides them with a unique perspective on Nigerien life. As foreign women, they are allowed to participate in both male and female activities, whereas male Volunteers are limited to socializing only with other men. This does not mean, however, that female Volunteers are entirely free of expected gender roles. Although a female Volunteer is more accepted by men, she is still a woman and therefore considered different. For example, female Volunteers must keep their knees covered, with either long skirts or baggy pants.
Nigerien women usually marry between the ages of 13 and 18, unless they reside in cities. As a single woman living alone in a community, you may be approached by men who wish to court or date you. But there is less need for concern regarding sexual harassment or assault in Niger than in some other countries. Nigerien culture greatly minimizes physical contact because of the influence of Islam, and the chief of a village will look out for a female as he would a daughter. Nevertheless, it is important to keep your relations as platonic as possible to ensure good working relationships with people in your community.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
People of color may confront special challenges in Niger. One of the most common is being mistaken for someone from your race’s or ethnic group’s country of origin. Along with this, Nigeriens may not believe that you are a U.S. citizen, as the majority of people from the United States they have seen or heard about are of European descent.
African-American Volunteers have found that being black in Africa has advantages as well as challenges. You may be more easily accepted by your community, since you are not visibly different and thereby blend in more. However, villagers’ expectations may be higher because of your race. They may expect you to be more like them and not afford you the same allowances in language learning and cultural adaptation that they grant to your white peers. In public places, you may be taken for Nigerien and thus expected to conform to cultural norms, such as the Muslim dress code for women. Some African-American Volunteers have struggled with being told by their villagers that they are not truly black.
There is a support system among Volunteers to help you adjust to similar issues in Niger.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
There are and have been Volunteers over age 40 in Niger. The Peace Corps welcomes the experience and special skills of older Volunteers. Like other Volunteers, you should be prepared for the harsh climate and basic living conditions, and need to take special care of your health because of the lack of medical facilities in Nigerien villages. Because there are so few older Volunteers in Niger, you may find yourself missing the company of people of similar age.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Nigerien culture has been described as homophobic, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers may find it difficult to serve here. Because of the negative attitudes regarding homosexuality, it would very difficult to maintain a positive working relationship with villagers and be open about your sexual orientation. You are likely to find a support system within the Volunteer group, but you are unlikely to be able to be open outside that circle.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Islam is the predominant cultural influence in Niger. It arrived beginning in the 12th century, and more than 90 percent of the population are practicing Muslims. Although there are a few militant Islamic groups in the country, the government has been able to prevent incidents of violence. The government is officially secular, and other religions are well tolerated. There are some 400 Christian missionaries in the country, most of them Americans. Volunteers are free to practice their own religion in Niger as long as they do not engage in proselytizing. Note, however, that there are no Christian churches outside major towns.
Nigeriens may inquire about your religion out of curiosity or try to influence you to become Muslim. However, this is not so much because they object to other religions as because they are concerned (like those of many religions) for your afterlife, as they believe one cannot go to heaven unless one practices the “right” religion.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Niger, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Niger, as in other parts of the world, some people hold prejudicial attitudes toward individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. And there is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.
The Peace Corps program in Niger focuses on rural villages and small towns, which means it would be extraordinarily difficult, as well as unsafe, for anyone with a serious physical handicap to live in rural Niger. Even in Niamey and regional capitals, there are no public accommodations for people with disabilities.
That being said, as part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodation, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Niger without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/Niger staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in their training, housing, job sites, or in other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Niger?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The authorized baggage allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with combined dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total, with a maximum weight allowance of 50 pounds for any one bag.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave receivers 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 Niger?
It is 220 volts, 50 cycles (the European standard). Note, however, that only Niamey and larger towns have electricity. Volunteers should not bring electric appliances unless they are battery or solar powered.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their expenses. Often, Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are the safest, but not always the most convenient, ways to bring money. Credit cards can be helpful for ordering plane tickets to Europe or the United States online, but they are virtually useless for travel in Niger and the surrounding region. Some high-end restaurants and hotels in major West African cities (not Niamey) do accept credit cards—Visa is the best bet. Although you will find places to cash traveler’s checks, the process can be a hassle. Fees are high, and in some countries you have to show the bank your receipt of purchase. Generally speaking, cash is easier to exchange. If you bring traveler’s checks, euros are preferable to dollars. The Peace Corps office has a safe where you can store money and other valuables upon arrival in Niger.
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 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 personal property insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Do not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available. The Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for such losses.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Niger 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 bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks, bicycles, and lots of walking.
What should I bring as gifts for Niger 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. Items can also be purchased locally.
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 they have completed about half of their 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 ministry 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 are assigned to rural villages or small towns and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a 12-hour drive from the capital. There is at least one “veteran” Volunteer based in each of the regional capitals, and six Volunteers are currently based in Niamey.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, 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 Niger?
Yes. International calls can be made from Niamey and most larger towns, but telephone service is expensive and is not always reliable. Cellphone coverage is increasingly available throughout Niger.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
Some Peace Corps/Niger sites have cellphone coverage and a few Volunteers own cellphones. The U.S. cellphones are not compatible with the Niger cellphone system, but you can purchase inexpensive cellphones locally.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
E-mail access is available at the Peace Corps office in Niamey and at the regional offices. It is also available at private telecenters in most larger towns. The connections, however, are still slow, of limited capacity, and very expensive, so Internet access, while possible, is problematic. Because of the lack of electricity in villages, computers are not useful for Volunteers assigned to rural areas. Community and youth education sector Volunteers, who are normally stationed in small towns with access to electricity, may want to bring a laptop.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Niger and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Niger.
Many Volunteers end up wishing they had not brought so many clothes and toiletries and had concentrated instead on more personal items like music and , photos. However, we recommend that you avoid bringing anything you would be heartbroken to lose. Since there is a variety of jobs, each with different clothing requirements, you should consider your particular job in deciding what to bring. Health and education Volunteers have a greater need for professional-looking clothing than Volunteers who spend most of the time in the field, but all Volunteers should be neat and presentable. Despite your worst fears, there is a cool season in Niger, when night temperatures become quite tolerable. Make sure your clothes are comfortable and durable, because they will take a beating during hand laundering. Keep in mind that it is relatively cheap and easy to have local tailors make great-looking traditional clothes (or copies of what you bring with you).
- Ten or so pairs of cotton underwear (boxer shorts, bras, etc.)
- Three to five cotton T-shirts or tank tops (white not recommended)
- Three or four dress shirts
- One or two pairs of shorts for sports (but note that shorts are not normally worn by men or women in public)
- Two or three pairs of lightweight, loose-fitting cotton pants (tailors can duplicate them), the darker the better
- Two or three skirts for women (short skirts are inappropriate, and pockets are handy), below knee-length
- One sweater/sweatshirt (fleece)
- Three or five pairs of cotton socks (not white due to dust)
- One or two dressy outfits for official functions, e.g., good-looking dress or pants and a collared shirt (tie optional); do not bring anything that needs dry cleaning
- Belts (for when your clothes no longer fit you as you’ll probably lose weight)
- One or two brimmed hats or baseball caps
- One pair of jeans
- Swimsuit (sometimes a pool may be available)
- One pair of sturdy sandals (e.g., Tevas, Birkenstocks, Chacos)
- One pair of tennis shoes
- One pair of dress shoes for official functions (e.g., loafers or boat shoes for men and nice sandals for women)
Note: Sand, dust, rain, mud, and mildew are prevalent in Niger, so you may want to waterproof or otherwise protect much of your clothing and footwear.
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- Thin, lightweight towel
- Nail clippers and nail file
- Good pair of scissors (for hair cutting and other things)
- Two pairs of prescription glasses, if you wear them, and maybe one tinted pair.
- Three-month supply of any prescription medication you take (including birth control pills)
- Facial astringent/Face wipes (only if you prefer a specific brand)
- Special soaps and hair conditioners
- Two-month supply of shampoo for training
- Toothpaste (only if you want your favorite brand, as it can be purchased in Niger)
- Two pairs of dark sunglasses (locally available sunglasses may not have UV protection) with a sturdy case
- Razor and blades (if you are partial to a certain type—you can purchase Bic razors locally)
- Swiss army knife or Leatherman with can opener, bottle opener, blade, corkscrew
- Sturdy water bottles (e.g., Nalgene) or canteens; two-quart size is ideal (small-mouth bottle easier to drink out of while traveling)
- Spices for cooking (e.g., cinnamon, oregano, basil, curry powder); most can be purchased in Niger 89
- Dry sauce mixes and instant drink mixes (a nice treat)
- Small and large plastic food storage bags
- Hard candies (note that chocolate melts, except for peanut M&M’s)
- Plastic containers (to protect a camera, tapes, and food)
- Dried fruit/granola/energy bars
- Jerky and/or tuna in a pouch
- Instant coffee
Note that Peace Corps/Niger has a cookbook specific to cooking in Niger. Also almost any food you want can be sent from home.
- Sleeping bag (very light, highly compactable one is best)
- Pillow (optional)
- Combination lock (key locks available locally)
- Sturdy but inexpensive waterproof watch
- A sturdy day pack or fanny pack
- Batteries for anything electronic that you bring
- Solar battery recharger (note that it is usually easier to just buy new batteries and battery rechargers can get burnt out from the heat)
- Alarm clock
- Backpack—internal frame, well constructed (not too large)
- U.S. and world maps
- Paperbacks (there are many at the Peace Corps office, but recent releases make good additions)
- Games (e.g., deck of cards, chess, checkers, Othello, Frisbee, backgammon); many are available in the transit houses
- Photos of family, friends, and scenery (a great way to get to know people)
- Musical instruments
- Materials for hobbies and crafts (you will have more free time and fewer distractions)
- Calendars, holiday cards, thank-you notes, stationery, address book, good writing pens
- U.S. driver’s license (for travel outside Niger)
- Credit cards
- Padded envelopes for sending items home (like film)
- Twelve to 15 ID photos (for visas and other forms; photo-booth quality is OK, though this can be done in Niger )
- Duct tape
- Cassette recorder,Walkman, iPod, or MP3 player
- Your favorite music and blank cassettes (CDs will get scratched)
- Shortwave radio (for BBC and Voice of America news broadcasts; inexpensive ones can be purchased in Niamey)
- Flashlight or headlamp and spare bulbs (also available in Niger)
- Self-adhesive U.S. stamps for mailing letters with people traveling to the United States
- Camera with a dustproof case (smaller is better as it is more inconspicuous), including digital equipment to download to a computer
- USB sticks
- Your favorite movie on DVD or VHS (You will have access to a TV sometimes) 91
- Heavy coats
- Too many clothes
- Clothing that is torn, disheveled-looking, or has offensive wording
- Camouflage or military clothing
- Lots of cash
- Two-year supply of toiletries (basic products are available in Niger)
- Pots, pans, and kitchen utensils
- Anything cumbersome or unusual that could attract customs’ attention
- Over-the-counter medication (common OTC medication is provided by Peace Corps)
- Insect repellant (provided by Peace Corps/Niger)
- Sun block (provided by Peace Corps)
- Rain gear
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 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.