Difference between pages "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria" and "Health care and safety in Guatemala"

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{{Health care and safety by country}}
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The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative approach to disease. Peace Corps/Guatemala maintains a medical office with two full-time American nurses who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. A Guatemalan physician is available for consultation several hours each working day. Additional medical services, such as laboratories and specialized physicians, are also available in Guatemala City at local, American-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you may be hospitalized here or transported to a facility in the United States.
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*[[Packing lists by country]]
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*[[Training by country]] 
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*[[Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles by country]]
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*[[Health care and safety by country]]
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*[[Diversity and cross-cultural issues by country]]
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*[[FAQs by country]]
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*[[History of the Peace Corps by country]] 
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===Health Issues in Guatemala===
  
===Communications===
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Outside of major cities, the healthcare infrastructure is based mainly on rural clinics, supported by some hospitals. There are excellent air ambulance facilities in case of emergencies.  The role of clinics, other than diagnosing endemic health problems and coordinating the training of midwives, is to refer complicated cases to service providers in the larger cities.  Maladies associated with poverty such as malnutrition, water- and fecal-borne disease (including cholera), tuberculosis, and parasitic infestations are fairly common. Malaria, dengue fever and Chagas disease are also present. Most health problems in Guatemala can be avoided by consistently using preventive measures.
  
====Mail====
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===Helping You Stay Healthy===
  
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.  Mail sent via airmail takes three to four weeks, and packages sent by surface mail take from two to six months. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately, this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Packages and letters arriving in Bulgaria are often checked by officials for dangerous items and sometimes for money or expensive items as well. The inspectors usually reseal the packages and letters and send them on, but some may never arrive at their destination.  Advise your family and friends to number their letters and include “Airmail” on their envelopes. (For letters, we recommend global airmail, available at U.S. post offices.)
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The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy upon your arrival in Guatemala. You will receive nine training sessions devoted exclusively to health and safety, and be given a medical handbook and other references. During training, you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this booklet.  
  
It is also advisable to have your mail addressed to you in both Cyrillic and Latin script. While this is not necessary, it does make Bulgarian postal handlers less suspicious of incoming mail.  We don’t recommend that your friends and family declare large values for packages sent or insure them, as you may need to pay a tax to release packages of considerable value from customs.  
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During training, you will have access to basic first-aid supplies and many over-the-counter medications through the medical officers. However, during this time, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for new shipments to arrive.  
  
Despite these challenges, we encourage you to write to your family regularly (snail mail or email) and to number your own written letters. It is a good idea to advise family members that mail is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. Also advise them that in the case of a family emergency, they should contact the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C.  
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You will have physical examinations, including lab work, at mid-service and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Guatemala will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Guatemala, you may be sent to the U.S. for further evaluation and care.  
  
After pre-service training, you will become a Volunteer and move to your site. Mail should then be addressed directly to you at your new residence. You can provide this information to family and friends toward the end of training prior to moving to your site. If your residence does not provide for a secure or private mailbox, it may be better to have your personal mail sent to you at your work address.
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===Maintaining Your Health===
  
Bulgarian postal and customs regulations for packages make it very impractical and expensive to receive anything except letter mail during training. Tell family and friends that they should NOT send packages until after you have completed training and are at your assigned site. At that time, you will be better able to assess what things from home you really need and how best to have them sent.  
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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.  
  
====Telephones====
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The old adage, “An ounce of prevention …” becomes extremely important in rural areas where medical diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Guatemala include taking preventive measures for the following:
  
Your apartment may or may not have a landline telephone— many don’t. For in-country calling, most Volunteers use mobile phones, which they purchase themselves. However, fees associated with mobile phones are high and most Volunteers find that talking for long periods of time on the phone is out of their budget. Instead, Volunteers (and most Bulgarians) generally rely heavily on text messaging from cellphones for a small fee. All of the major Bulgarian cellular service providers also offer free text messaging from the Internet, allowing Volunteers to send quick messages free of charge.  
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* If you are assigned to a malarial area, follow your prophylaxis treatment. Failure to take malaria prophylaxis may result in termination of service.
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* In all bites from warm-blooded animals, you should assume the animal is rabid, inform the medical officer, and come into the office for rabies prophylaxis.  
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* Always use a condom during sex and adhere to other safe-sex practices.
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* Do not wait until a medical problem becomes critical before seeking treatment.  
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* Do not drink water that has not been purified.
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* Do not eat fruits or vegetables that have not been properly cleaned or cooked.
  
Standard long-distance telephone service is available but expensive. If you are calling on a landline from outside the capital, it may take longer to get a connection. Some calling cards from the United States (e.g., those issued by AT&T, MCI, and Sprint) can be used to call the United States.  However, these cards will not give you access to other countries because of a phone block in Bulgaria.  
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It is critical for your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, lab work, or other specialist appointments, and that you let your medical officer know immediately of significant illness and injuries.  
  
Many Volunteers feel that the best method of calling the U.S. is to do so at an Internet club. Internet clubs often have phone booths where you can call internationally for mere cents per minute. Another cheap option is to use voice-over Internet protocol programs such as Skype or VOIPStunt from a computer. Even if you do not have a computer or a home Internet connection, most towns have Internet clubs where you can use these programs.  
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Many health problems that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These problems include food poisoning, amebiasis, giardiasis, hepatitis A, dysentery, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation for Guatemala during pre-service training.  
  
If these options are not available in your town, you can make international calls from a local public telephone or post office. The country code for Bulgaria is 359 for family and friends calling from the U.S.
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Abstinence is the only certain choice for prevention of HIV/ AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host-country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from your medical officer about this important issue.  
  
====Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access====
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Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
  
Some, but not all, Volunteers have access to computers at their work sites, which may or may not have Internet and e-mail capabilities. Work site equipment is intended to be used primarily for work-related activities, and you should not assume that it can be used for personal purposes.  Internet and e-mail access is becoming more widely available throughout Bulgaria, and Internet cafes can be found in most towns, although they are generally not found in the rural villages. While it is likely you will have Internet access not far from your site, you should not assume that you will have constant email access.
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===Women’s Health Information===
  
If you bring a laptop computer, the Peace Corps does not provide e-mail accounts or technical and repair support. While many Volunteers find computers extremely useful, the Peace Corps does not consider them to be essential and cannot replace them in the case of loss or theft. If you do bring computer equipment, insurance is highly recommended.  
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Pregnancy is a health condition that is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions requiring medical attention, but may also have programmatic ramifications.  The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps medical and programmatic standards for continued service can be met. The majority of Volunteers who become pregnant are medically separated.  
  
===Housing and Site Location===
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===Your Peace Corps Medical Kit===
  
Housing is generally provided by a Volunteer’s sponsoring organization. Most Volunteers live in a modest studio or one-bedroom apartment with plumbing, heating, and electricity.  The range of available housing may vary greatly between Volunteers and sites. If you live in a town or city, you will likely live in an apartment in a communist-style housing “block,” that, from the exterior, resembles the high-rises in public housing projects in U.S. cities.  
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The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a medical kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that might occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at your Peace Corps medical office.  
  
Volunteers assigned to smaller communities should be prepared for the possibility that they may live in a private room in the home of a Bulgarian family. This can offer huge advantages in terms of being accepted into a local family and being “taken care of.” Note that Bulgarian standards of privacy differ from those in the U.S. It is also common that landlords may leave some of their personal items in an apartment that they are renting out.
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====Medical Kit Contents====
  
Your heat source could be either one or more portable heaters, central heat, or wood-burning stoves in some rural areas. Heat and electricity are very expensive, and Bulgarians usually only heat the room they are currently in. They usually only turn on their hot water boiler when they are planning to take a shower. Expect for it to be cold inside during the winter, and for it to be very hot during the summer. Indoor climate control concepts differ from what you are likely used to in the U.S.
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American Red Cross First Aid and Personal Safety Manual <br>
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Ace bandage  <br>
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Acetaminophen: 325&nbsp;mg tablets  <br>
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Adhesive tape  <br>
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Antacid tablets  <br>
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Anti-fungal cream  <br>
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Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)  <br>
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Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B ointment  <br>
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Band-Aids  <br>
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Bismuth Subsalicylate tablets  <br>
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Butterfly closures  <br>
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Cepacol lozenges  <br>
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Condoms  <br>
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Dental floss  <br>
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Diphenhydramine HCL (Benadryl): 25&nbsp;mg tablets  <br>
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Gloves, non-sterile, disposable, 1 pair  <br>
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Hydrocortisone Cream 1%, 30&nbsp;mg tube  <br>
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Ibuprofen: 400&nbsp;mg tablets  <br>
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Insect repellant stick  <br>
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Iodine tablets (Water purification tablets)  <br>
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Lip balm  <br>
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Oral rehydration salts  <br>
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Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)  <br>
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Pseudephedrine HCL (Sudafed): 30&nbsp;mg tablets  <br>
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Robitussin-DM lozenges  <br>
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Scissors  <br>
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Sterile gauze pads  <br>
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Sunscreen Cream 28 SPF  <br>
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Tetrahydrozaline eye drops (Visine)  <br>
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Tweezers  <br>
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Whistle  <br>
  
The Peace Corps staff uses an involved and thorough process to identify Volunteers’ host organizations and towns. Potential host organizations fill out an in-depth application in which they state their reasons for wanting to work with a Volunteer, their organizational goals, how they see a Volunteer fitting into their organization, what specific work the Volunteer will assist with, desired skills, and available resources. Staff visits each site and discusses these items with the potential hosts, and ultimately uses a methodical system of evaluating potential sites based on their strengths and the potential for a Volunteer to be successful at those sites.
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Toward the middle of your 11-week pre-service training (PST), the Peace Corps office and training staff match trainees and sites, and trainees learn where they will live and work for the next two years. Education, professional experience, and level of Bulgarian language ability are considered in matching individual Volunteers’ skills with the needs of each site. Volunteers should be prepared to serve in any region of Bulgaria.
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===Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist===
  
===Living Allowance and Money Management===
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If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since the time you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
  
You will receive a monthly living allowance that will enable you to maintain a modest lifestyle similar to that of your host community counterpart. This allowance will be deposited in your bank account every month by Peace Corps/Bulgaria.  It is intended to cover food, household supplies, local transportation, recreation, entertainment, and incidental expenses such as postage, film, reading material, stationery, and toiletries. In most cases, rent and utilities are paid by the sponsoring organization, but the Peace Corps assists with these expenses in some circumstances.  
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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.  
  
Most Volunteers in Bulgaria find their living allowance to be sufficient for their needs, as long as they live a frugal lifestyle. The lifestyle you adopt while serving in Bulgaria will determine how far your living allowance goes. These days in Bulgaria, there are many things to spend money on, and if you choose to eat daily in restaurants, travel a significant portion of your weekends, and buy imported food and toiletries, your living allowance likely will not last through each month. You may also have a harder time becoming a part of your community if you live at a higher level than the average Bulgarian. If you adopt a more typical Bulgarian lifestyle, cook frequently, and choose primarily from the ample selections of local goods, your living allowance should be more than adequate. It is important to live at the same economic level as your Bulgarian counterparts.  
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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.  
  
===Food and Diet===
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If you wish to avoid taking duplicate vaccinations, you should contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your predeparture orientation or shortly after you arrive in Guatemala.  You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.
  
It is possible to eat a very healthy and natural diet in Bulgaria, if you prepare many of your own meals and use local foods. Larger towns and cities offer many of the same basic staples that you can find in the United States, with the exception of pre-prepared and instant foods. Volunteers in smaller towns sometimes experience shortages of certain items, especially in the winter, but there is typically an ample food supply if you are flexible about cooking with what is currently available.  If you live in a small village, you may choose to occasionally shop in larger towns in your region, to fill in your food supplies and get items unavailable at your site.  
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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.  
  
Grilled meat and potatoes or salads best capture the essence of Bulgarian cuisine. Meals served in a family setting are heavy, oily, filling, and take hours to finish (after a big Bulgarian meal, you may have to lie down and rest a while!)Many dishes are overly salty by American standards and Bulgarians cook with lots of sunflower oil. Pork and chicken are the most popular meats—served roasted, breaded and fried, or grilled. The selection of seafood is limited, and it is advisable to refrain from eating it unless you know its origin.  Seafood from the Danube or the Black Sea should generally not be eaten, while trout from mountain streams and fish raised on farms is generally safe to eat.  
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While awaiting shipment—which can take several months— you will be dependent on your own medication supplyThe Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or non-prescribed medications, such as St. John’s Wort, glucosamine, or antioxidant supplements.  
  
Vegetarians may get weary of eating breaded cheese, fried potatoes, or salad every time they go out for a meal or visit Bulgarian friends, but the abundance and low prices of wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables in season make it possible to prepare delicious meals at home. Prices of produce fluctuate greatly according to the season. Peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, cabbages, eggplants, zucchinis, and carrots are almost always available. However, in the winter, depending on your community, you may have to rely mostly on potatoes, cabbages, carrots, dried beans, and canned items. Locally-grown fruits are available from late spring to late fall. During the winter, you may have to make do with canned fruits and fruit juice and imported fruits such as bananas, apples, and oranges.  
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You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, although it might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about your on-hand three-month supply of prescription drugs.  
  
Cereal and grains are available, although breakfast cereals can be expensive, as Bulgarians typically do not eat cereal for breakfast. The typical Bulgarian breakfast is “banitza” a delicious pastry made from filo dough and cheese—which is made fresh daily in most towns and villages and costs around 35 cents. Bulgarians eat bread with every meal, and even the smallest town has a place where you can buy freshly-baked bread on a daily basis. Rice, pasta, and all-purpose white flour can also be purchased easily, but you will have to search extensively for whole-wheat flour. Various types of beans are widely available, and lentils are widely used. Dried soybean product was used in the past as a cheaper substitute for meat, and is available in specialty stores in the larger towns and cities. Boxed, long-life pasteurized milk is readily available. Milk packaged in plastic bags is not pasteurized and should be boiled before drinking. The two types of local cheese are delicious and always available. Imported cheese is also available but expensive. Bulgarian yogurt, made primarily from cow and sheep milk, is a staple of the Bulgarian, and is well-known world wide.  
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If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. To reduce the risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease, we discourage you from using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless their use has been recommended by an ophthalmologist for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.  
  
A cookbook of recipes to help you make the most of products available in Bulgaria will be given to you during training. You will be making a lot of things from scratch here, and if you do not already know how to cook, you will learn. Don’t worry, before long you will be sharing your favorite recipes with other Volunteers.  
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If you are eligible for Medicare, 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.  
  
===Transportation===
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The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age and/or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
  
Bulgaria has a large network of bus and train routes, which makes it possible to travel to practically all destinations by public transportation. Many Volunteers have experienced thefts while traveling, however, so you must be vigilant in protecting your valuables while using public transportation.  Traveling on trams in Sofia requires extra vigilance.
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===Safety and Security—Our Partnership===
  
When traveling on trains, it is best to travel in a compartment with a baba (grandmother) as a protection against crimeIf possible, put your heavier baggage on the shelf above your head (not above someone else’s) so that you will notice if someone tries to take it down. Put smaller luggage underneath your feet. Although people may warn you against this (a Bulgarian superstition says you will lose money), it is a relatively safe option.  
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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 riskProperty 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.  
  
===Geography and Climate===
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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.
  
Bulgaria is located in the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. The country is bordered by the Black Sea in the east, Turkey and Greece in the south, Macedonia and Serbia in the west, and Romania in the north. Although slightly larger than Tennessee, Bulgaria stands out as a land of great geographic and environmental diversity. The average elevation is 480 meters (1,584 feet) above sea level.  
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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.  
  
The country has four major geographic regions. The most northerly is the Danube plateau, which rises from the shores of the Danube River to the foothills in the east. Its climate is continental, with hot summers and cold winters. The second region is the Balkan Mountains (or “Old Mountains” to the Bulgarians), which extends across the center of the country and blocks cold winds from the plains of Russia. The third region, the valley drained by the Maritsa River in the south, has a Mediterranean climate with mild, rainy winters and warm, dry summers. South of the Maritsa Valley is the fourth region, the Rhodope Mountains, which forms the border between Bulgaria and Greece.
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===Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk===
  
Bulgaria has a Mediterranean climate with four distinct seasons. As in the United States, weather patterns have been changing in recent years, so it is difficult to describe a “typical” year. Spring generally brings frequent rain. Spring and fall are temperate and feature beautiful flora. Summer temperatures average about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius); but in July and August, they can reach the 90- to 100-degree Fahrenheit range for a two-week period or longer. The highlands in the northeast are cooler than the more Mediterranean climate of the southwest. Bulgaria can get cold and gray in the winter, with temperatures averaging around 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius).  
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There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control.  
  
===Social Activities===
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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).
  
There are a multitude of activities you can explore, however, if you are open to trying new activities that you may have not previously thought of as social/recreational activities. You may find out that you enjoy hanging out with the local babas (grandmothers) and learning to can food, that you get used to spending hours on end at a local coffee shop (this is likely to be the most popular social activity in your town!), and that you are not comfortable spending much time at the local disco, as it may be full of your high school students. The trick is to find things that give you satisfaction and enjoyment. It is up to you to make the most of your leisure time, and there is plenty to do if you just go out and look for it.  
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* 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.  
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* 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.
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* 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.  
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* Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
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* Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.  
  
Bulgaria has museums, concerts, town festivals, theaters, athletic events, hot springs, outdoor markets, historical and ethnographic centers, coffee shops, bars, discos, and cinemas (in bigger towns and cities) for you to enjoy. The most recently released American films are shown in English with Bulgarian subtitles but are usually dubbed by the time they make it to the video rental shops.
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===Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk===
  
Bulgaria boasts some of the most magnificent natural areas in Eastern Europe, with a great diversity of flora and fauna.  Opportunities for outdoor recreation include hiking, camping, rock climbing, and birdwatching. Many of the towns in mountain regions have local hiking clubs. During the winter, Bulgarian ski resorts attract skiers from the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, and the Nordic countries.
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Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.  
  
===Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior===
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For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
  
One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and acting like a professional all at the same time. It is not an easy thing to do successfully, and we can only provide you with guidelines. As a representative of a Bulgarian organization, you will be expected to dress and behave accordingly. “Business casual” is the catchall term for appropriate professional attire as a Volunteer in Bulgaria.
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<u>Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft: </u>
  
Bulgarians dress very stylishly and take great pride in their appearance. They commonly, however, only have a few outfits that they wear repeatedly. While there is no hard-and-fast rule, a foreigner who wears ragged or dirty clothing is likely to be considered disrespectful and possibly unreliable. Improper attire creates difficulties in gaining the respect and acceptance of your Bulgarian colleagues. At the same time, Volunteers who outdress the Bulgarians they work with may find they have difficulty fitting in. In general, Volunteers should dress to match their colleagues. Sometimes this can mean nice jeans and a casual, button-up shirt; other times this can mean wearing a tie daily. In an ethnic Bulgarian community, colorful and stylish attire is likely very appropriate, while in some minority communities, more modest dress is important. Keep in mind that you can purchase most clothing you would want for day-to-day use for reasonable prices throughout Bulgaria, so you may want to bring minimal clothing from the U.S.  
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* Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel 
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* Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
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* Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
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* Carry valuables in different pockets/places
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* Carry a “dummy” wallet as a decoy Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
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* Live with a local family or on a family compound
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* Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
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* Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.  
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* Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
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* Make local friends
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* Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
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* Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
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* Travel with someone whenever possible
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* Avoid known high crime areas
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* Limit alcohol consumption
  
You will also have semi-regular occasions to dress up for weddings and other special events, so bring some more formal attire in addition to professional clothes for everyday wear in the office or classroom. Casual clothes like jeans, shorts, T-shirts, and tank tops are also appropriate in some situations, but almost always outside of the professional environment.
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===Support from Staff===
  
===Personal Safety===
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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.
  
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, 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; Volunteers may be at the highest risk for pickpocketing when they are in cities with other Volunteers and are speaking English on the street. It is obvious then that they are foreigners, and they are less attentive because they are distracted by conversation. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Bulgaria 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 Bulgaria. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well being.  
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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.  
  
===Rewards and Frustrations===
+
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.
  
Volunteers in Bulgaria must demonstrate a great deal of flexibility, patience, and maturity. Counterparts may sometimes feel threatened by your different methods, your energy, and your drive to work. When you first arrive at your site, you will need to focus on building relationships and gaining the trust of your colleagues and community. Then, you will be in a much stronger position to get things done. Many Volunteers find that once they are accepted by a community, they are “in” and are both embraced the their communities and are well-respected. It takes considerable time and effort to get to this point. Although earlier groups of Volunteers in Bulgaria have made the Peace Corps known to many in the community, you may have to explain your role as a development worker. The concept of volunteerism is a bit odd to most Bulgarians. In spite of your modest stipend, you may be perceived as a rich foreigner. You should expect frequent and lengthy delays in almost everything you are engaged in.  
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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 Guatemala as compared to all other Inter America and Pacific programs as a whole, from 2000–2004. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.  
  
All Volunteers are expected to be highly motivated and proactive, flexible, professional, and committed to the Peace Corps’ ideals and goals. The Peace Corps staff and current Volunteers take their commitment to serve the people of Bulgaria seriously. We invite you to join us in this effort, but only if you are confident that you can commit yourself to completing your two-year assignment.
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To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
  
Because of the many economic and political difficulties and changes Bulgaria faces, the atmosphere in the country is one of uncertainty. The changes occurring in Bulgaria today are some of the most significant in its history, and Bulgarians from all walks of life are sacrificing time and comfort to make a new Bulgaria, that is part of the global world. Being a part of this historic moment in Europe should be both fascinating and immensely satisfying to any Volunteer who is willing to work hard and give generously of his or her time.  
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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.  
  
[[Category:Bulgaria]]
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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).
 +
 
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When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
 +
 
 +
===What If You Become a Victim of a Violent Crime?===
 +
 
 +
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so.  If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
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Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
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If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect.  Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
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In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at violentcrimehotline@peacecorps.gov.
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===Security Issues in Guatemala===
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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 Guatemala.  You can reduce your risk of becoming a target for crime by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking advanced 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, especially in large towns, are the favorite work sites for pickpockets. The following are safety concerns in Guatemala of which you should be aware:
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* The percentage of the population that is armed is high due to the carryover from the civil war that ended in 1996.
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* The desire for lucrative drug trafficking routes has led to an increase in drug-related violence, and by association, police action to combat it. Avoid appearing to endorse drugs or drug culture.
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* In villages and small towns, citizens frequently take the law into their own hands, dispensing summary justice.  If you are even suspected of posing a threat to public safety, the consequences can be potentially dangerous.
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* Try to keep non-essential travel to a minimum.
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* Do not resist robbers. Nothing you own is worth being injured or killed over.
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* Avoid being out after dark.
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===Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime ===
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You must be prepared to take on the responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target,
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ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Guatemala, do what you would do if you moved to a large city in the United States: be cautious, check things out, ask a lot of 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 the Peace Corps’ policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Guatemala may require that you accept some restrictions to your current lifestyle.
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Volunteers are normally more at risk of crime while in large cities; in smaller towns, your new “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for “their” Volunteers. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and don’t respond to such negative and unwanted attention. In general, keep your money out of sight—use an undergarment money pouch, such as the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. If you walk at night, you should always be with a companion.
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Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Guatemala
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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.  Guatemala’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
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The Peace Corps/Guatemala office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be offered in Volunteer newsletters and in memoranda from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
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Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Guatemala. 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.
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Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. Peace Corps staff work closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for the Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective role in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection criteria are based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; different housing options and living arrangements; and other support needs.
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You will also learn about the country’s detailed emergency action plan, in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Guatemala will gather at pre-determined locations until the situation resolves itself or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
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Finally, in order to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps medical officer and/or the on-call Peace Corps/Guatemala duty officer. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner.  In addition to responding to the needs of the Volunteer, the Peace Corps collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
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[[Category:Guatemala]]
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[[Category:Health and Safety]]

Latest revision as of 12:11, 8 December 2015

Country Resources

The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative approach to disease. Peace Corps/Guatemala maintains a medical office with two full-time American nurses who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. A Guatemalan physician is available for consultation several hours each working day. Additional medical services, such as laboratories and specialized physicians, are also available in Guatemala City at local, American-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you may be hospitalized here or transported to a facility in the United States.

Health Issues in Guatemala[edit]

Outside of major cities, the healthcare infrastructure is based mainly on rural clinics, supported by some hospitals. There are excellent air ambulance facilities in case of emergencies. The role of clinics, other than diagnosing endemic health problems and coordinating the training of midwives, is to refer complicated cases to service providers in the larger cities. Maladies associated with poverty such as malnutrition, water- and fecal-borne disease (including cholera), tuberculosis, and parasitic infestations are fairly common. Malaria, dengue fever and Chagas disease are also present. Most health problems in Guatemala can be avoided by consistently using preventive measures.

Helping You Stay Healthy[edit]

The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy upon your arrival in Guatemala. You will receive nine training sessions devoted exclusively to health and safety, and be given a medical handbook and other references. During training, you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this booklet.

During training, you will have access to basic first-aid supplies and many over-the-counter medications through the medical officers. However, during this time, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for new shipments to arrive.

You will have physical examinations, including lab work, at mid-service and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Guatemala will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Guatemala, you may be sent to the U.S. for further evaluation and care.

Maintaining Your Health[edit]

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 rural areas where medical diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Guatemala include taking preventive measures for the following:

  • If you are assigned to a malarial area, follow your prophylaxis treatment. Failure to take malaria prophylaxis may result in termination of service.
  • In all bites from warm-blooded animals, you should assume the animal is rabid, inform the medical officer, and come into the office for rabies prophylaxis.
  • Always use a condom during sex and adhere to other safe-sex practices.
  • Do not wait until a medical problem becomes critical before seeking treatment.
  • Do not drink water that has not been purified.
  • Do not eat fruits or vegetables that have not been properly cleaned or cooked.

It is critical for your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, lab work, or other specialist appointments, and that you let your medical officer know immediately of significant illness and injuries.

Many health problems that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These problems include food poisoning, amebiasis, giardiasis, hepatitis A, dysentery, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation for Guatemala during pre-service training.

Abstinence is the only certain choice for prevention of HIV/ AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host-country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from your medical officer about this important issue.

Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.

Women’s Health Information[edit]

Pregnancy is a health condition that is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions requiring medical attention, but may also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps medical and programmatic standards for continued service can be met. The majority of Volunteers who become pregnant are medically separated.

Your Peace Corps Medical Kit[edit]

The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a medical kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that might occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at your Peace Corps medical office.

Medical Kit Contents[edit]

American Red Cross First Aid and Personal Safety Manual
Ace bandage
Acetaminophen: 325 mg tablets
Adhesive tape
Antacid tablets
Anti-fungal cream
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B ointment
Band-Aids
Bismuth Subsalicylate tablets
Butterfly closures
Cepacol lozenges
Condoms
Dental floss
Diphenhydramine HCL (Benadryl): 25 mg tablets
Gloves, non-sterile, disposable, 1 pair
Hydrocortisone Cream 1%, 30 mg tube
Ibuprofen: 400 mg tablets
Insect repellant stick
Iodine tablets (Water purification tablets)
Lip balm
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudephedrine HCL (Sudafed): 30 mg tablets
Robitussin-DM lozenges
Scissors
Sterile gauze pads
Sunscreen Cream 28 SPF
Tetrahydrozaline eye drops (Visine)
Tweezers
Whistle


Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist[edit]

If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since the time you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and 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 taking duplicate vaccinations, you should contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your predeparture orientation or shortly after you arrive in Guatemala. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.

Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth-control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service.

While awaiting shipment—which can take several months— you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or non-prescribed medications, such as St. John’s Wort, glucosamine, or antioxidant supplements.

You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, although it might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about your on-hand three-month supply of prescription drugs.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. To reduce the risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease, we discourage you from using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless their use has been recommended by an ophthalmologist for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.

If you are eligible for Medicare, over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure.

The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age and/or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.

Safety and Security—Our Partnership[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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 Guatemala as compared to all other Inter America and Pacific 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?[edit]

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

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

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

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

Security Issues in Guatemala[edit]

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 Guatemala. You can reduce your risk of becoming a target for crime by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking advanced 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, especially in large towns, are the favorite work sites for pickpockets. The following are safety concerns in Guatemala of which you should be aware:

  • The percentage of the population that is armed is high due to the carryover from the civil war that ended in 1996.
  • The desire for lucrative drug trafficking routes has led to an increase in drug-related violence, and by association, police action to combat it. Avoid appearing to endorse drugs or drug culture.
  • In villages and small towns, citizens frequently take the law into their own hands, dispensing summary justice. If you are even suspected of posing a threat to public safety, the consequences can be potentially dangerous.
  • Try to keep non-essential travel to a minimum.
  • Do not resist robbers. Nothing you own is worth being injured or killed over.
  • Avoid being out after dark.

Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime[edit]

You must be prepared to take on the 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 Guatemala, do what you would do if you moved to a large city in the United States: be cautious, check things out, ask a lot of 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 the Peace Corps’ policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Guatemala may require that you accept some restrictions to your current lifestyle.

Volunteers are normally more at risk of crime while in large cities; in smaller towns, your new “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for “their” Volunteers. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and don’t respond to such negative and unwanted attention. In general, keep your money out of sight—use an undergarment money pouch, such as the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. If you walk at night, you should always be with a companion.

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

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

The Peace Corps/Guatemala office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be offered in Volunteer newsletters and in memoranda from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.

Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Guatemala. 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. Peace Corps staff work closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for the Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective role in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection criteria are based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; different housing options and living arrangements; and other support needs.

You will also learn about the country’s detailed emergency action plan, in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Guatemala will gather at pre-determined locations until the situation resolves itself or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.

Finally, in order to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps medical officer and/or the on-call Peace Corps/Guatemala duty officer. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner. In addition to responding to the needs of the Volunteer, the Peace Corps collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.