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For the official Welcome Book for Senegal see here
PEACE CORPS / SENEGAL HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Senegal
The Peace Corps program in Senegal began in 1963 with the assignment of 15 English teachers to secondary schools around the country. In the ensuing years, the program has grown considerably. On average, about 120 Volunteers work in a wide range of projects throughout Senegal.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Senegal
In the past, the predominant Peace Corps project was TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language), with the rural development project playing a secondary role. Current programming efforts integrate the goals of the government of Senegal to benefit the rural population with the goals of the Peace Corps, placing special emphasis on projects that meet basic human needs. Currently, Peace Corps/Senegal has projects in small business development, natural resources management, agriculture, and rural health.
Peace Corps/Senegal will continue to assign Volunteers primarily to small-scale projects aimed at training rural individuals or communities to tackle their own development problems and priorities. This policy reflects Peace Corps/Senegal’s continued adherence to a philosophy of grass-roots sustainable development and coincides with a growing recognition by the government of Senegal that a centralized, top-down development approach is neither effective nor affordable.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: SENEGAL AT A GLANCE
Senegal has a rich and colorful history. Many African empires gained prominence in the region, the most important of which was Tekrur, a powerful trading state along the Senegal River that flourished from the 10th through the 12th centuries. The groups residing in the region sent slaves and gold north across the desert in exchange for salt and weapons. Islam first entered the region through these contacts.
Europeans began to arrive in the mid-15th century, beginning with the Portuguese and followed later by the French, English, and Dutch. The Europeans competed intensely for Senegal’s lucrative slave trade, and by the end of the 17th century, the French had established forts at Dakar and throughout the Senegal River Valley, while the English had seized the mouth of the Gambia River.
Although they established a colony at this early date, the French needed an additional two centuries to extend their dominion beyond their forts and coastal cities. They faced stiff resistance from African leaders throughout the country, with Islam often becoming a rallying point against French domination. By the end of the 19th century, France controlled most of Senegal north of the Gambia, but groups south of the Gambia continued to resist into the early years of the 20th
French colonial rule, as elsewhere in Africa, was primarily a system of political and economic exploitation. The French introduced the peanut to Senegal as a cash crop in the mid-19th century, and soon Senegal was France’s most profitable African colony. France ruled more or less peacefully in Senegal until African demands for independence became too strong to ignore in the years following World War II. In 1959, Senegal and French Sudan (present-day Mali) combined to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent in June 1960. Because of internal political and economic differences, the federation was dissolved several
months later, and Senegal and Mali became separate, independent nations.
Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sedar Senghor, was one of the leading figures of the independence movement. He was also a highly respected French-language poet and the only African ever elected to the prestigious and powerful Académie Française.His writings on negritude, a political philosophy that champions the strengths of African ideals, remain important in contemporary African political science.
After a power struggle within the first government, Senghor ousted and imprisoned Prime Minister Mamadou Dia in 1962. He passed a new Constitution in 1963 that organized the government as a representative republic with executive power vested in the president and legislative power vested in a National Assembly elected by universal suffrage. Senghor also instituted the beginnings of local democratic rule by establishing a political governance system centered on agglomerations of villages called “rural communities.” This remains the basis of modern Senegalese democracy. In 1976, the Constitution was amended to institutionalize four political parties across the spectrum from right to left. Senghor, the head of the Socialist Party, was reelected in 1978 as a moderate socialist, but he resigned on December 31, 1980, passing on the presidency to Prime Minister Abdou Diouf. President Diouf removed all restrictions on opposition political parties. An overwhelming majority returned him and the Socialist Party to power in 1983 in the country’s first unrestricted multiparty elections. Over a dozen parties are active in Senegal today, with the Socialist Party and Democratic Socialist Party being the most prominent.
As acting president of the Organization of African Unity in 1985 and 1986, Diouf led the international diplomatic battle against South Africa’s apartheid regime. Senegal accorded full diplomatic recognition to both Namibia’s South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) and South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC). On November 14, 1981, Senegal and the Gambia signed an agreement proposing to unite the two countries as the Confederation of Senegambia. Various government officials had proposed such a union since the early days of independence. The Gambia, a former English colony, is completely surrounded by Senegal, a former French colony. The two countries share the same ethnic groups and pre-colonial history; the main differences between them are their official languages and colonial traditions.
The agreement was precipitated by an attempted military coup in the Gambia in July 1981, while Gambian President Dawda Jawara was out of the country on a state visit. Fearing regional instability, the Senegalese Army entered the country and suppressed the rebellion. After this aborted coup, the two countries tried to implement a confederation. Political integration was going faster than economic integration when the two governments decided to dismantle the confederation in 1989.
Between 1997 and 1999, Djibo Ka and Abdoulaye Niasse, both important figures in Diouf’s party and longtime government ministers, quit the government and created their own parties.
Although the ruling party minimized the event’s significance, most observers saw it as the beginning of the end of the Socialist Party. On March 19, 2000, President Diouf lost to his longtime rival, Abdoulaye Wade, in the presidential election. This was a first in Senegal, where the Socialist Party had won elections for more than 40 years.
Wade benefited from the support of around 20 parties grouped within the Front for an Alternation of Power. Although the election was not trouble-free, most national and international observers considered it fair and democratic.
Senegal’s political stability has in many ways been a shining light in what has otherwise been a difficult post-independence struggle for most of sub-Saharan Africa. The March 2000 election was a model for all young democracies. What had been expected to be an election surrounded by civil unrest with contested results fortunately turned out to be a transparent and peaceful transfer of power, restoring hope among the majority of Senegalese, especially the young. Senegal has now entered a transition phase full of hopes and just as many uncertainties. The record of the current government is still being shaped and assessed.
The Senegalese government is a republic under multiparty
democratic rule. There is universal suffrage, with citizens eligible to vote at age 18.
The president heads the executive branch and appoints a prime minister as the head of government. Members of the Council of Ministers, or cabinet, are appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the president. The most recent government reorganization occurred in November 2002.
The legislative branch consists of a 120-seat unicameral National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) whose members are elected by direct popular vote for five-year terms.
The legal system is based on French civil law. Following a 1992 reform, the judicial branch is composed of a Constitutional Court, Council of State, Court of Final Appeals (Cour de Cassation), and Court of Appeals. The Constitutional Court reviews legislative acts, and the Council of State audits the government’s accounting office.
The country is divided into 11 administrative regions: Dakar (the capital), Diourbel, Fatick, Kaolack, Kolda, Louga, Matam, St. Louis, Tambacounda, Thiès, and Ziguinchor. These regions are further divided into prefectures, subprefectures, and rural communities.
Although Senegal has a diversified economy by West African standards, it escapes being classified by the World Bank as one of the poorest of the world’s nations. A major problem over the past 25 years has been recurrent drought, which has thwarted plans for expanding industrialization and increasing agricultural production.
The Senegalese government exerts a great degree of control over the peanut oil and phosphate industries, but in most other sectors, foreign ownership (mostly French and Lebanese) is dominant. The nation’s four primary sources of income are phosphate mining, light manufacturing, agricultural processing, and tourism. Of these, only tourism has been growing over the past decade. Manufacturing suffers from limited demand and low competitiveness, while phosphate mining suffers from world oversupply.
Peanut cultivation and refining have seen a tremendous decline over the past two decades. Once the country’s leading foreign currency earner, the peanut industry now accounts for only 25 percent of exports. This loss is the result of overcultivation in traditional peanut-growing regions, drought, and the diversion of peanuts from Senegal into neighboring countries for export via the black market. The Senegalese government has taken a number of steps to restructure production and marketing systems and to increase domestic prices for farmers, but the effects of these steps have yet to be evaluated.
About 70 percent of Senegal’s population is engaged in agriculture, but the performance of the agricultural sector has been worsening, and it now contributes less than 25 percent of gross domestic product. With the population growing at a 3 percent annual rate and cereal production declining in some areas, Senegal is finding it more and more difficult to attain food self-sufficiency. The government has been forced to rely increasingly on imports and foreign aid to deal with its food shortages. Senegal’s New Agricultural Policy (Nouvelle Politique Agricole) and its follow-up, the Cereal Plan (Plan Céréalier), remain the centerpiece of government policy in this sector.
The policy’s major objectives are the complete phaseout or scaling down of state-run regional development agencies, privatization of the agricultural sector, and progress toward food security.
The constant drought and soil depletion problems have been exacerbated by sporadic locust infestations, underlining the precariousness of farming in Senegal. Crop production in areas of the northern peanut basin has been seriously affected, and yields nationwide have consistently been below their potential.
The effects of agricultural reform are still hard to assess, but there are some positive signs. State control of cereals marketing is relaxing, and there is evidence that a degree of price stability has been achieved through private grain trading.
However, a reduction in fertilizer subsidies has had little effect on farmers, since most could not afford fertilizer even at the old subsidized price. Many farmers and local government agents say that the Agriculture Credit Bank, designed to provide financial resources to local producers, has such stringent loan repayment terms that it has eliminated itself as a provider of credit for peasant farmers. Pricing policies are a complicated issue, but major production increases in food crops are probably unattainable within the existing price structure. Farmers find it extremely difficult to make a profit growing food grains while paying for the inputs necessary (irrigation, fertilizer, mechanization) to increase production significantly.
People and Culture
Many African countries contain hundreds of distinct ethnic groups, yet in Senegal there are only a small number of principal groups. The Wolof are the largest group, constituting 36 percent of the population. They live predominantly in the regions north of the Gambia and in the urban centers. They have traditionally been Senegal’s leading peanut cultivators.
Peul-speaking people (also known as Fulani) make up 26.5 percent of the population. Found throughout West and Central Africa owing to their nomadic past, in Senegal they can be divided into two distinct groups. The Fulani (17.5 percent) are shepherds or farmers who live all over the country except in the coastal areas. The Toucouleur (9 percent) have traditionally farmed along both banks of the Senegal River, though the region is presently divided by the Mauritania-Senegal border. In recent year, many Pulaars have migrated to urban centers.
The Sereer, who constitute 16.5 percent of the population, live primarily in the Thiès and Fatick regions. The Diola, 9 percent of the population, have a number of distinct linguistic groups with similar cultural traditions and live primarily in the Ziguinchor region. The Mandingo, 6.5 percent of the population, are scattered throughout the Kolda and Tambacounda regions; they are culturally and linguistically related to the Bambara of Mali, the Dioula of Côte d’Ivoire, and the Malinké of Guinea. All these groups are sedentary farmers. Smaller ethnic groups include the Bainouk, Balante, Bambara, Bassari, Béik, Diakhanké, Dialonké, Mandjak-Mankagn, and Soninké. Large groups of foreigners, particularly French, Lebanese, and Cape Verde Islanders, reside in the urban centers, especially in Dakar. While the predominant religion in
Senegal is Islam, the Senegalese take great pride in their country’s climate of religious tolerance. In fact, the government officially celebrates both Muslim and Roman Catholic holidays, even though more than 90 percent of the people are Muslim.
Sufism, the type of Islam practiced in Senegal, is based on the teachings of an ancient form of Islamic mysticism. Sufism follows the basic tenets of Islam but does not follow all of the practices of Sunnite or Shiite Muslims. Some indigenous ethnic groups have been Muslim for more than 600 years, while others did not convert until the end of the 19th century. Five percent of Senegalese are Christian, primarily adherents of Roman Catholicism, which was brought to the country by Portuguese and French colonialists in the 15th through the 20th centuries. The remainder are animist, following traditional beliefs centered on the power of supernatural spirits. Animism profoundly influences the practice of Islam and Christianity in Senegal.
Approximately 30 years of drought in the Sahel has severely impacted natural resources in Senegal. Dramatic reductions in plant cover, biological diversity, and land productivity have occurred in much of Senegal north of the Gambia. Current tree-planting efforts in the sub-Sahara are estimated to be only about 10 to 15 percent of the level required to balance losses of woody vegetation from activities such as land clearing, charcoal production, fuel collection, and brush fires. If recent patterns of below-normal precipitation continue, then a permanent reduction in the carrying capacities of affected lands is probably inevitable. A new balance must be achieved between a relatively drier environment and the ability of the natural resource base to support agricultural and pastoral systems in perpetuity.
Efforts by donor groups such as USAID, the World Bank, and the United Nations initially focused on an industrial plantation approach to remedy deforestation and desertification problems in Africa. Project successes were the exception rather than the rule. In a revamped approach, village-level woodlots were promoted as the panacea to Africa’s energy crisis, but this approach too yielded few success stories after considerable donor spending. A third approach is now focusing on a variety of interventions (i.e., agroforestry, protection of natural regeneration, windbreaks, live fences, and woodlots) at the village and farm levels. These efforts in Senegal are being coordinated by the Ministry of Waters and Forests within the Ministry of Environment and Protection of Nature.
Another result of the prolonged drought is the reduction of Senegal’s already limited groundwater and surface water resources, which has severely affected agricultural production and threatened the health of rural inhabitants. Water tables have dropped an average of 20 inches (50 centimeters) per year in most regions of the country, and traditional flood plains and marsh areas have remained dry. A large portion of the government’s water budget goes to the country’s rapidly expanding urban centers, and the technology for tapping the permanent, deep water table or for diverting river water remains prohibitively expensive for most rural communities.
Senegal has undertaken a number of initiatives to satisfy the water needs of the rural population and to develop and manage existing water resources rationally. The Ministry of Waters and Forests is executing a deep-borehole-well program in selected rural communities that will provide more reliable and safer water for human consumption and promote agricultural and livestock production. The ministry also provides technical advice and equipment to communities to assist them in digging and repairing traditional cement-tube wells.
Despite the government’s recognition of sufficient rural water supplies as a pressing national priority, inadequate water continues to be the major problem around which the cycle of poverty and poor health revolves. The Ministry of Waters and Forests is not equipped to solve the problem alone, and an infusion of outside funding in this sector remains necessary.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Senegal and to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it. If you do not have access to the Internet, visit your local library. Libraries offer free Internet usage and often let you print information to take home.
A note of caution: As you surf the Internet, be aware that you may find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to express opinions about the Peace Corps based on their own experiences, including comments by those who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. These opinions are not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government, and we hope you will keep in mind that no two people
experience their service in the same way.
General Information About Senegal
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Dakar to how to convert from the dollar to the CFA franc. Just click on “Senegal” and go from there.
Visit this site for general travel advice about almost any country in the world.
The State Department’s website issues background notes about countries around the world. Find Senegal and learn more about its social and political history.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments worldwide.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information, and each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political background.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the UN.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about 228 countries.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
The Senegal desk at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., has a list of Volunteers recently returned from Senegal whom you can contact.
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 Wed 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 e-mail address for the Friends of Senegal is [email protected]
This site provides links to various Peace Corps-related sites.
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 Senegal
Description of the AIDS education mural project in Senegal, in which Volunteers in the Fouta region created a nontraditional method of presenting AIDS information to illiterate rural residents
Site of the Senegal Post
Information on elections in Senegal
Official site of the government of Senegal (in French)
Current information on the government of Senegal
http://wwwsul.stanford.edu/depts/ssrg/africa/senegal/senenews.html Provides links to a variety of sites about Senegal
Practical information for getting around the country
Information on the Great Mosque of Touba
A Senegalese Web portal (in French)
International Development Sites
World Bank data on Senegal
United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks
Plan International Australia
An orientation to Senegal from Lewis and Clark University
Site of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
- Barlow, Clive, et al. A Field Guide to Birds of the Gambia and Senegal. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.
- Behrman, Lucy C. Muslim Brotherhoods and Politics in Senegal. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970. (Also available in a 1999 paperback from iUniverse.com.)
- Gellar, Sheldon. Senegal: An African Nation Between Islam and the West. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995.
- Gordon, Eugene (ed.). Senegal in Pictures. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1989. (Available from LernerBooks.com.)
- Fagg, William Buller, et al. Yoruba: Sculpture of West Africa. New York: Knopf, 1984.
Books About the Peace Corps
- Banerjee, Dillon. So You Want to Join the Peace Corps: What to Know Before You Go. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2000 (paperback).
- Herrera, Susana. Mango Elephants in the Sun: How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on theYangtze. New York: Harper Perennial, 2001.
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000 (paperback).
- Thomsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969, 1997 (paperback).
- Tidwell, Mike. The Ponds of Kalambayi: An African Sojourn. Guilford, Conn.: The Lyons Press, 1990, 1996 (paperback).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
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. Most mail takes a minimum of two weeks to arrive. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Letters may arrive with clipped edges because someone has tried to see if any money was inside (again, this is rare, but it does happen). Advise your family and friends to number their letters for tracking purposes and to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes.
Despite the delays, we 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.
Your address during training will be:
PCT “Your Name”
Corps de la Paix
Once you have been sworn in as a Volunteer and are at your permanent site, you will need to send your new address to your family and friends.
Calls can be made from either businesses known as “telecenters” or cabines téléphoniques (phone booths). Volunteers’
houses are not equipped with telephones, but a fortunate few
live close to a telecenter or to a neighbor with a phone.
Telecenters are usually easy to locate in towns but do not
exist in small villages.
Cell phones are now common in many parts of Senegal, and many volunteers now have them.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Many Internet cafes have sprung up recently throughout Senegal, particularly in regional capitals. The cost varies from the equivalent of around $1.50 an hour to $3.50 an hour. Since most Volunteers live a good distance from a regional capital, however, few Volunteers have regular access to the Internet.
Housing and Site Location
Most Volunteers live in rural areas, especially those who work in the agriculture, natural resources, and environmental education sectors. For safety and cultural reasons, Volunteers are usually housed in family compounds, where accommodations range from a cement-block room with a tin roof to a traditional hut with a thatched roof. The Peace Corps requires that all housing have screens to protect against mosquitoes and other insects, a lock, and a concrete floor. Additionally, bathing and toilet facilities must meet Peace Corps standards. Prospective Volunteers are encouraged to bring pictures and other decorations to “make their hut a home.”
Living Allowance and Money Management
The living allowance is deposited into Volunteers’ bank accounts (usually Crédit Agricole) on a quarterly basis and is intended to cover the cost of food, household supplies, and work-related travel. The amount varies from region to region and depends on whether the site is in an urban or rural area. As the funds are issued on a quarterly basis, it is important for Volunteers to keep track of their expenditures so their allowance will last until the next payment is issued.
Food and Diet
Senegalese cooking is unvaried by Western standards but delicious nonetheless. Rice and millet are the two staples, with millet being the traditional food crop in the peanut basin and rice being more prevalent in the river basins. Depending on your assignment and the relative wealth of the villagers with whom you live, you may end up eating millet or rice three times a day. Generally, rice is served at lunch and millet at dinner, both with seasonal vegetables, and fish when available.
The national dish is thiéboudien (che-boo-jenn), a tasty concoction of fish and rice simmered in tomato sauce and spices, accompanied by various vegetables. Other popular dishes are mafé (rice and peanut sauce), yassa (rice, onions, and chicken, beef, or fish) and cere neex (millet and bean sauce). White bread, which, like rice, was introduced by the French during the colonial period, is also extremely popular. Bread is expensive for the average Senegalese, since all of its ingredients must be imported, but it has become a favorite breakfast in urban areas. On Muslim holidays, the standard fare is lamb. A wide variety of exotic fruits are also available at different seasons, including mangoes, papayas, watermelons, mandarin oranges, and passion fruit. Fruits are more widely available in the south, where heavier rainfall supports a large variety of fruit trees.
All Volunteers are issued bicycles for daily use. Another form of transportation available to village-based Volunteers consists of charrettes, or horse- or donkey-drawn carts. For intracity transportation, there are the omnipresent Peugeot 504 station wagons called sept-places or taxis-brousse. They are frequently unreliable, unsafe, crowded, and uncomfortable.
There are also minibuses of various shapes and sizes, but they are even more unreliable, unsafe, crowded, and uncomfortable. The Peace Corps regularly reminds Volunteers to examine the condition of a vehicle and its driver before purchasing a ticket to board any intercity mode of transport. If you find yourself in a vehicle you believe to be unsafe, you should demand that the driver let you out immediately. The grim reality is that vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death of Americans in Africa.
Geography and Climate
Senegal, a semiarid country with a population of more than 10 million, is one of America’s most important partners in sub-Saharan Africa. Occupying an area approximately the size of South Dakota, it shares borders with Mauritania, Mali, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and the Atlantic Ocean, and it is the westernmost country on the African continent. Because of its geographic location and deep-water port, Dakar, the capital, serves as the western gateway to the African continent.
The landscape consists of monotonous flat plains in the middle of the arid, sandy Sahel. The only significant elevations are in the far southeast along the Guinea border, the northern tip of the Fouta Djalon plateau, and farther east along the Malian border.
The Senegal River originates in the Fouta Djalon and forms the border with Mauritania. St. Louis, an old colonial city, is at the river’s mouth. The wide flood plains, cultivated with peanuts and millet, are among the country’s most productive areas. Senegal is very important to migrating birds, particularly waterfowl, which return in large numbers each winter from Europe. Djoudj Park, one of the most important bird reserves in the world, is to the north of St. Louis. Senegal is the most biologically diverse country in the Sahel, with over 550 animal species. Certain species of wildlife, however, such as giraffes, have disappeared altogether. A greater problem is the increasing desertification of the northern part of the country.
Social activities vary from region to region, but baptisms and weddings are big events in all areas. Some of the best-known West African popular musicians are from Senegal. Soccer, called football in Senegal, is a major preoccupation of boys throughout the country, and traditional wrestling tournaments and the ceremonies surrounding them continue to be important sources of entertainment.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Senegalese, with rare exception, appear in public neatly dressed. While an unkempt or sloppy appearance may be an expression of individuality in the United States, in Senegal it is viewed as demeaning and disrespectful. Thus Volunteers are expected to dress neatly and be well groomed at all times. Male Volunteers who wear shorts risk being treated as schoolboys, since generally only schoolboys wear shorts in Senegal.
Female Volunteers should not wear anything above the knee, including shorts, in public. These recommendations for dress are consistent with Peace Corps policies established to ensure the safety and well-being of Volunteers and with the wishes of the Senegalese government. As guests of the government, Volunteers must not abuse the hospitality of their host by disregard for local norms. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to set good examples for the young people of Senegal in addition to providing technical assistance. The respect they earn by virtue of their education, relative affluence, and status as representatives of the United States is easily lost by improper behavior or dress. Note that the use of drugs, disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, and participation of any kind in Senegalese political affairs by Volunteers are strictly forbidden and will result in immediate termination from the Peace Corps.
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, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Senegal Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Senegal. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
The cultural adaptation Volunteers must undertake while serving in Senegal is substantial. Customs and practices such as polygamous marriages, reliance on extended families, and subsistence farming require Volunteers to reevaluate their own attitudes. The slower pace may be a pleasant contrast to the American rush at breakneck speed but can also be a source of frustration when things do not get done as quickly as one is accustomed to.
In addition, Volunteers are considered rich by Senegalese, an image that is hard for Volunteers to accept, particularly when beggars or representatives of charitable causes constantly approach them. It is important to remember that even though Volunteers work without a salary, in actuality their living allowance is far more than the income of the average village family. You will have to learn how to say no with discretion.
West Africa is known for its friendly and generous people, and the Senegalese are no exception. Volunteers are likely to attract attention wherever they go and be stared at simply because they are the strangest, if not the most interesting, people many Senegalese have ever seen. Most Senegalese want to be friends with Volunteers and visit them continually. The American desire for privacy seems strange to Senegalese, and Volunteers may find it difficult to have times of solitude. Seeking privacy is viewed as antisocial behavior in Senegalese culture.
PEACE CORPS TRAINING
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Pre-service training is an essential part of Peace Corps service. The objective is to provide you with solid technical, language, and cross-cultural knowledge to prepare you for living and working successfully in Senegal. The training uses an experiential approach wherever possible; thus, rather than reading or hearing about Volunteer activities, you will practice, process, and evaluate actual or simulated activities.
A welcome committee led by the Peace Corps country director and the training director will meet you at the airport. The committee will help you collect your baggage, go through customs formalities, and load your baggage on rented buses.
Because trainees’ baggage has occasionally been left somewhere en route, we advise you to carry essential items, toiletries, and enough clothing for three days in your carry-on
luggage. Be certain to clearly and securely label all your baggage before checking it at the airport.
After leaving the airport, you will take a two-hour bus ride to Thiès, the location of the training center. You will stay at the center for your first three days in-country, when training will focus on an orientation to living with a host family; survival classes in Wolof, a local language; safety issues; a medical orientation; language placement interviews; and “getting to know you” activities.
At the end of the fourth day, you will travel upcountry to spend two or three nights in a village with one other trainee and a Volunteer host. You will have an opportunity to talk about the Peace Corps experience with your host and experience firsthand some of the skills required to succeed as a Volunteer. When you return to the training center on the eighth day, you will discuss your upcountry experience. You will then meet your host family at the training center, who will take you home to begin the home stay program.
You will have your own room, but the furniture in the room
will be minimal, just what you need to sleep. Trainees generally consider the home stay to be the most valuable training activity. Because the families do not speak English, we strongly recommend that you acquire at least a basic understanding of French prior to arriving in Senegal, whether through adult education courses, cassette tapes, or other means.
The training week is long and demanding, so come prepared to work hard. You will start at 8 a.m. and work till 6 p.m., with breaks throughout the day. On Saturdays, you will have classes from 8 a.m. until noon, with afternoons free. In general, language classes are in the morning and technical classes in the afternoon. You will have breakfast and lunch at the training center and dinner with your host family. You will walk to and from the training center every day, but organized transportation will be provided for the first couple of weeks to give you time to become familiar with the town. Pre-service training has four components: language, technical, cross-cultural, and personal health. Safety training is integrated into all these components, but particularly the cross-cultural and medical components. To facilitate language acquisition, the primary language spoken at the training center is French, a method known as language immersion. While immersion in French is the rule at the start of training, when trainees begin to learn African languages toward the end of training, they may speak both French and local languages at the center. Cross-cultural training is both hands-on and theoretical, with sessions to help you gain insight into and appreciation of Senegalese culture. Technical training also consists of theoretical sessions in the classroom and a lot of hands-on activities. Health training is delivered by a Peace Corps medical officer. The training staff will be available for support throughout the program and will provide feedback on your progress. You must attain required competencies all four components to be sworn in as a Volunteer. The key to a successful training is effort.
Members of the Peace Corps medical staff will visit the training center at least two days a week to offer consultations and facilitate sessions on personal health care. They will also vaccinate you against the various endemic diseases in the region. If an emergency occurs when members of the medical staff are not at the center, the training center staff will contact them by phone.
During training, when you are not doing fieldwork, you will be expected to wear neat, clean, and conservative clothing. Pants, shirts (including T-shirts), skirts, and dresses are fine, but shorts are appropriate only for recreational activities (e.g., jogging or soccer). You can receive mail at the training center’s post office box, but the center’s telephone is for official business only. You can make calls to the United States at the post office for approximately $7 per minute. Mail will be collected from the post office once a day on workdays. You will have to pay customs taxes of about $4 to $7 for any packages, depending on the items’ value. Peace Corps service is not for everyone. Training is a time for you to reevaluate your commitment to two years of service. Although training is very intense, it can also be a lot of fun. Be flexible and maintain a good sense of humor, and you will have a rewarding and enjoyable training experience.
Technical training prepares you to work in Senegal by building on the skills you already have and helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. Peace Corps staff, Senegalese 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 Senegal and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Senegalese agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them. You will be supported and evaluated throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical for your job performance, they help you integrate into your community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings. There-fore, language training is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer.
Senegalese instructors teach formal language classes six days a week in small groups of four to five people. Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills further on your own. Prior to being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Senegalese host family. This experience is designed to ease your transition to life at your site. Families go through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of pre-service training and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Senegal. 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.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You will be expected to practice preventive health care 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 Senegal. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other STDs are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces your risks at home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. During your service, there are usually three training events. The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
- In-service training: Provides an opportunity for Volunteers to upgrade their technical, language, and project development skills while sharing their experiences and reaffirming their commitment after having served for three to six months.
- Midterm conference (a second in-service training): 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 Volunteers’ respective projects and personal experiences.
The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted to country-specific needs and conditions. The key to the training system is that training events are integrated and interrelated, from the pre-departure orientation through the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by the training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN SENEGAL
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Senegal maintains a clinic with three full-time medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary health care needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Senegal at local hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an American medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Health Issues in Senegal
All the running water in Senegal is unsafe to drink, so you should drink only bottled water or brand-name bottled or canned beverages such as Coca-Cola, Fanta, beer, and wine. Ice cubes in restaurants also are not safe, and mixing alcohol with contaminated water will not purify the water. When you travel to small villages where bottled water may not be available, you will need to bring bottled water or chemical additives to purify the local water. Information on methods of water purification will be provided during training. Peeled fruits and vegetables are safe to eat, as are unpeeled fruits and vegetables that have been well cooked. Salads are dangerous, even in good restaurants, since lettuce and other vegetables are frequently washed with contaminated water. Food should be safe to eat if it is freshly prepared, is thoroughly cooked, is served hot, and has not been exposed to possible contamination by flies. All raw seafood should be avoided, and meat should be ordered well done (bien cuit in French).
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Senegal, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter. During pre-service training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical officer. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we will not order these items during training. Please bring a six-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, a medical officer in Senegal will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Senegal, 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 Senegal is to take preventive measures for the following:
You will live and work in an area where malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, is prevalent and must take an approved prophylactic medication—mefloquine—once a week during service and for four weeks after you leave the area. Side effects such as lightheadedness, dizziness, gastrointestinal disturbances, and insomnia are not uncommon when first starting mefloquine, but these side effects are generally mild and tend to diminish with continued use of the drug. For a detailed description of malaria prophylaxis, you can review the Peace Corps’ Technical Guideline 840, “Prevention of Malaria,” once you arrive in Senegal.
It is important to know that no single or combined malaria prophylactic regimen is 100 percent effective. Avoidance of mosquito bites is imperative because malaria, if contracted and not treated promptly, can be fatal. A good rule of thumb is to consider any unexplained fever a possible case of malaria. By using bed nets, wearing appropriate clothing, and applying insect repellent to exposed skin, you can greatly reduce your risk of exposure to mosquito bites.
Vaccination against yellow fever is required for entry into Senegal, and the Peace Corps also recommends vaccination against polio, gamma globulin, typhoid, tetanus and diphtheria, and meningococcal meningitis. A Peace Corps medical officer will review these recommendations with you to help you determine the best prophylactic regimen. Required inoculations will be given at the pre-departure orientation. Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These illnesses include food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, Guinea worms, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Senegal during pre-service training. Abstinence is the only certain choice for prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. Whether your partner is Senegalese, 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 a medical officer about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let your medical officer know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries. Similarly, it is important to involve the medical office as early as possible if you become a victim of physical or sexual assault so you can get the necessary physiological and emotional support. The medical staff can also advise you of the options available for prosecuting an attacker. (The medical office is required make an incident report to Peace Corps headquarters, but it can withhold the identity of the Volunteer if requested to do so.)
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if a pregnant Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met. If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical officer in Senegal will provide them. If you require a specific product, please bring a six-month supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
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 the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Tinactin (antifungal cream)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your pre-departure orientation or shortly after you arrive in Senegal. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.
Bring a six-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 six-month supply, it will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months— you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a six-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. We discourage you from using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services
has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in health care plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary health care from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service health care benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 83 percent of Volunteers surveyed say they would join the Peace Corps again. The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on:
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps
Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety information. The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are in the Volunteer’s control. Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2003, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 47 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the late evening between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.— most often occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: More than 75 percent of crime incidents occurred when a Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Almost a third of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
- Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
- Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
- Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
- Carry valuables in different pockets/places
- Carry a “dummy” wallet as a decoy Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
- Live with a local family or on a family compound
- Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
- Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
- Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
- Make local friends
- Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by anAssociate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security; and Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise. The safety and security team also tracks crime statistics, identifies trends in criminal activity, and highlights potential safety risks to Volunteers.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and
Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support. If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed.
After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provides support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
The following country-specific data chart shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/trainees in Senegal as compared to all other Africa region programs as a whole, from 1999–2003. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps’ classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident. The chart is separated into the eight most commonly occurring assault types. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
Security Issues in Senegal
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 Senegal. You can reduce your risk by taking precautions and avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable. 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 Senegal you should be aware of: Petty theft, pickpocketing, and assaults on the general population have become a very serious problem in Senegal. Similarly, there has been a significant increase in these crimes against both female and male Volunteers in Senegal. The Peace Corps therefore recommends that Volunteers not walk alone at night or go to bars and nightclubs alone.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Senegal, 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 Senegal may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention both in large cities and at
their sites, but they are likely to receive more negative attention in highly populated centers than at their sites, where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them. 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, 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.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Senegal
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 reporting and responding to safety and security incidents. Senegal’s in-country safety program is outlined below. Information sharing—The Peace Corps/Senegal office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety. Regular updates will be provided in Volunteer newsletters or in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Senegal. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection 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 Peace Corps/Senegal’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 and places of work. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Senegal will gather at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved 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. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
DIVERSITY AND CROSSCULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years.
Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Senegal, 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 considered familiar and commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Senegal.
Outside of Dakar, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief in some countries that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Senegal 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 Senegal, 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 Senegal
The Peace Corps staff in Senegal recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
The roles and responsibilities of Senegalese women are generally quite different from those of American women, and a
Volunteer may need to prove to the women of her village that she can pound grain or transport water from the well like a Senegalese woman. Some Senegalese men, influenced by stereotypes of American women in film and the media, may act in a way that offends female Volunteers. Sometimes, the way female Volunteers dress or carry themselves is interpreted as a sign of availability. Behaving and dressing appropriately are good ways to encourage the respect you desire.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
People often expect African-American Volunteers to absorb languages and culturally adapt more quickly than other Volunteers. They sometimes are mistaken for Africans and therefore may experience impatience on the part of the Senegalese if they make mistakes while learning appropriate behavior. It can also be difficult for Senegalese to recognize Asian Americans, Arab Americans, or Hispanic Americans as being American, and when they do, they may associate them with stereotypes based on the Volunteers’ ancestral origin rather than their nationality. It helps to remember that these reactions stem from a simple lack of understanding and that they afford the opportunity to teach the Senegalese more about the diversity of the U.S. population.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
As is true elsewhere in Africa, older individuals are highly respected. But certain expectations come with this respect, in that seniors are presumed to have more knowledge and experience. Language acquisition is often more difficult for older Volunteers than it is for younger ones, and they can become frustrated by difficulties in communicating ideas important to them and their mission. Because the vast majority of Volunteers in Senegal are young, older Volunteers sometimes feel a sense of isolation within the Volunteer community. While Peace Corps/Senegal is sensitive to this issue and tries to take this into consideration when placing seniors, it is not always possible to do so. Younger Volunteers often seek advice from senior Volunteers; some seniors enjoy the role of mentor, while others prefer not to fulfill that role. Older Volunteers sometimes find pre-service training physically challenging.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers need to know that homosexuality is illegal in Senegal. Although they usually find sufficient support within the Peace Corps community, many feel the need to “go back into the closet” when they are at their sites. Senegalese culture does not tolerate public displays of gay or lesbian behavior (open display of heterosexual affection is also frowned upon). As Volunteers get to know their Senegalese family and make friends, they may be tempted to disclose their sexual orientation, but a decision to do this requires a great deal of thought because of the possible danger (one Volunteer was reportedly physically attacked when it became known he was gay).
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
As stated previously, the Senegalese population is more than 90 percent Muslim, with the rest being mainly Christian. There is a remarkable degree of religious tolerance in the country. For example, even after the events of September 11, 2001, a Volunteer was able to tell her Muslim friends and host family that she is Jewish without ill effects on their friendship. On rare occasions, a friend might to encourage you to explore or convert to Islam. Generally, Senegalese do not know much about religions other than Islam, Christianity, and, to a lesser extent, Judaism.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
There is no city in Senegal, including Dakar, with the infrastructure to accommodate the needs of individuals with disabilities. Although Senegalese are very accepting of people with disabilities, the accommodations that make life more manageable and that one may be accustomed to in the United States are absent here. Day-to-day life can be extremely difficult.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Senegal?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits.
The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The Peace Corps’ allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight allowance of 70 pounds for any one bag. Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.
What is the electric current in Senegal?
It is 220 volts, 50 cycles.
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 preferable to cash, but cannot be used in all locations. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. An extended stay of over two weeks at your site is strongly discouraged and requires advance permission from your Peace Corps supervisor and the approval of the country director.
The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, travel, or medical assistance. We strongly suggest that visitors consider obtaining insurance with emergency evacuation coverage from a company such as international SOS Assistance Inc. (PO Box 11568, Philadelphia, PA 19116; 800.523.8930 or 215.244.1500).
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage or reimbursement for the loss or theft of personal effects;
Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase such insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers are cautioned not to ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, expensive watches, radios, cameras, and computers are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and satisfactory maintenance and repair services are for the most part not available.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Senegal do not need to get an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating pri-vately 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 Senegalese 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.
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 after they have completed 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 their 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 other factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a 12-to-16-hour drive from the capital.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and
Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580; select option 2, then extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special
Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For nonemergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580; select option 2, then extension 2317 or 2318.
Can I call home from Senegal?
Yes. International calls to most countries can be dialed directly. To call the United States, first dial “00” and wait for a continuous tone (different from the regular tone). Then dial “1” plus the area code and the number. If you prefer to call through an operator, dial “16.” Calls can be made at businesses known as telecenters and at cabines téléphoniques (phone booths). At a telecenter, a clerk will present you with a bill after you have completed the call. At a cabine téléphonique, you will deposit coins during the course of the call.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
Cellular phones are widely used in Senegal but do not function in all parts of the country. Volunteers are allowed to purchase their own cellphones but are advised to purchase them in Senegal after ensuring that cellphones will work at their sites. Note that the cost of cellphones and service is the personal responsibility of the Volunteer.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
There is e-mail and Internet access at the many Internet cafes that have sprung up in Senegal, particularly in regional capitals. The cost varies from the equivalent of around $1.50 an hour to $3.50 an hour. We discourage you from bringing a computer to Senegal because most Volunteers do not have electricity in their homes, and security and maintenance of personal computers cannot be guaranteed. If you nevertheless bring a computer, it is imperative that you purchase personal property insurance because the Peace Corps does not reimburse trainees or Volunteers for the loss of personal items.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Senegal 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 Senegal.
We recommend that you bring a minimal amount of clothing. Although ready-made imported clothing is expensive in Senegal, local tailors can produce custom-made pants, shirts, and dresses for less than the cost of ready-made equivalents in the United States. Making use of these tailors will free up some packing space for other things and ensure that your clothes are suitable for the climate. Likewise, toiletries such as toothpaste, shampoo, razor blades, and deodorant can be found in Senegal, so bring only enough to last you through the 11-week training period. Also bring items that will make you feel a little like your old self in a completely new and strange home.
Remember to bring 18 photos with you for purposes such as visas and ID cards. These photos need not be expensive; those taken in a photo booth will suffice. Two final bits of advice: When packing, choose items that are modest, not ostentatious, and if in doubt, leave it out.
- One pair of jeans (expensive to buy locally), but because of the extreme heat, most prefer to wear khakis
- Loose cotton tops—some sleeveless and some with sleeves to protect bare shoulders from sunburn
- One light jacket and a few sweatshirts, sweaters, or flannel shirts (after you have been in Senegal a while, 60-degree evenings and mornings will seem very cold)
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Underwear—cotton is best; even better is travel underwear made of fast-drying material (like Ex Officio)
- One or two pairs of shorts (but note that they are inappropriate to wear in most contexts)
- For women, several skirts or dresses, below knee length (short skirts are inappropriate except for at a few places in Dakar)
- For men, two or three pairs of lightweight pants (cotton or cotton blend)
- Two or more dressy outfits for more formal work or social occasions
- One or two hats or caps for sun protection
- Two or three pairs of socks; Volunteers wear sandals most of the time, but you will need them for other shoes
- One pair of sturdy sandals and sandals such as Birkenstocks, Mephistos, or Tevas for daily wear
- Casual shoes with closed toes, such as sneakers or running shoes
- Dress shoes
Note: Many volunteers have clothing made out of beautiful and colorful African material, which is made in Dakar. If you take favorite designs or even patterns, the tailors can copy them.
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- One bath towel (when it wears out you can buy a local one that is not as plush but does the job)
- Two pairs of prescription eyeglasses and one pair of prescription sunglasses, if you wear them
- Contact lens solutions (although dust is a real problem, some Volunteers wear them; note that the Peace Corps does not recommend their use or provide replacements)
- Sunglasses—the darker, the better
- Hair conditioner (it is expensive in Senegal, so most Volunteers do without it) Kitchen
- Soft-drink mixes (some Volunteers use them to cover the taste of chemically treated water)
- Canteen or unbreakable thermos to carry clean water
- Your favorite recipes
- Plastic food storage containers with airtight lids
- Coffeepot, if you prefer real coffee over instant
Miscellaneous Essential Items
- Camera (preferably inexpensive) and film
- Swiss Army knife and small whetstone
- Daypack or sports bag for weekend trips (suitcases are very inconvenient)
- Pictures of your family and friends to share with Senegalese in friends
- One or two bathing suits for beach or pool swimming
- Watch—inexpensive, rugged, waterproof, and dustproof (cheap ones are available locally)
- Battery-operated shortwave radio and a supply of batteries (radios are available locally for around $40)
- Small cassette player and cassettes (prerecorded and blank cassettes are available locally, but the former are not of great quality)
- Three or four bandannas
- Scissors for cutting hair
- U.S. stamps—to send letters to the States with people going home
- One set of fitted and flat sheets—double size is best (good, inexpensive flat sheets are available in Senegal)
- Battery-powered alarm clock
- Calendar or schedule book
Nice to Have but Not Essential
- Books (the Peace Corps office has many, but additions are always welcome)
- Light sleeping bag (many Volunteers use them as portable mattresses)
- Musical instrument, if you play one and can tolerate possible damage to it from the climate
- Games, e.g., Frisbee, Scrabble, playing cards
- Sports equipment, e.g., football, softball and mitt, tennis racket (some cities have courts)
- Flashlight (standard metal ones are available in Senegal); if you bring a Maglite, do not forget to bring extra bulbs
- Solar calculator (available locally)
- Small stapler and staples
- Warm blanket (some find one comforting)
- Mini-cassette recorder to send messages home
- Sunscreen, at least SPF 15 (non-hypoallergenic varieties are available in Senegal)
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 your 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 readjustmentallowance to pay alimony, child support, and otherdebts through the Office of Volunteer FinancialOperations 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.