Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Honduras
- 1 Communications
- 2 Housing and Site Location
- 3 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 4 Food and Diet
- 5 Transportation
- 6 Geography and Climate
- 7 Social Activities
- 8 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 9 Personal Safety
- 10 Rewards and Frustrations
Letters sent from the United States generally arrive in Honduras in two to three weeks. However, the mail system is not always reliable, and it is not unheard of for a letter to take several months to arrive. Packages can take even more time. You may have to pay a small fee (from Lps 10 to Lps 30, USD 0.50 to 1.50) at the post office to retrieve any packages but sometimes postal employees waive it for Volunteers, at their discretion. During pre-service training, mail will be delivered to you at the training site, and your mailing address will be:
“Your Name,” PCT Voluntario del Cuerpo de Paz Apartado Postal 3158 Tegucigalpa, Honduras America Central
Once you become a Volunteer, you will be responsible for sending the address for your site to friends and family. We recommend you get a P.O. box (if available at your local post office in your site) if you want to receive correspondence at your site and avoid the cost of coming to the capital city. Volunteers in rural sites may have to travel to their provincial capital or other major regional city to receive mail. Some towns have no post office boxes, simply general delivery.
Volunteers may still receive mail at the above address; as of mid-2008 Peace Corps gives Volunteers the option of forwarding correspondence to their sites once per month or being kept in your file at the Peace Corps office until they visit the capital for official business. Peace Corps staff regularly pick up packages from the main post office in Tegucigalpa but if there is a fee assessed for receiving the package, that fee is passed on to the Volunteer.
We strongly recommend that you establish a regular writing pattern with your friends and relatives, since they might become concerned if they do not hear from you for an extended period of time.
We discourage you from having money or other valuable items sent to you through the mail. Electrical appliances cannot be sent through the mail, as they are prohibited items and could be subject to a fine. Letters and packages are sometimes opened by postal workers, and valuable items occasionally disappear. In addition, the process of retrieving a package at the post office can be time-consuming, and customs duties may exceed the value of the items sent. If you must have packages sent, however, we recommend padded envelopes. You will have a bank account at your site, and you can have money wired to that account (but note that the Peace Corps is not allowed to give out your account number). Airline tickets can be paid for in advance and picked up at the airline’s office in Tegucigalpa.
In addition, Federal Express, UPS, and DHL have offices in Tegucigalpa and can deliver packages to the Peace Corps office. Please do not send any electrical device or appliances via FedEx, UPS, or DHL, as a customs clearence process is required which will cost around $90 (plus you will be charged an additional 75 percent of the cost of the device). Please let your family and friends know this before sending any mail. We also encourage you to ask for shipment tracking numbers so you can track packages through the carriers’ websites. Remember that these delivery services cannot deliver to a post office box, so you will have to provide the following street address for the Peace Corps office: Avenida Republica de Chile #401, Colonia Palmira, Tegucigalpa (phone: +504.232.1753).
International phone service to and from Honduras is relatively good. Hondutel, the telephone agency, has offices in many cities and towns, and some of those offices offer direct lines to U.S. long-distance carriers. You can also call or receive calls from the United States from local phones.
Rates at Hondutel as of mid-2008 are 2 Lempiras (USD 0.11) per minute to the U.S. Calling cards and other phone discount programs' rates from the U.S. to Honduras are usually about $0.35 per minute.
Most cell phones operate on a pre-paid system, where subscribers periodically recharge their "minutes" in increments from Lps 10 to Lps 250 (USD 0.50 to 12). Domestic rates on the two main cell phone companies are around Lps 3-4 per minute, but purchasing saldo (minutes) on days advertised as "double saldo" give you extended talk time to some phone lines. Calls to the U.S. and Canada from cell phones are about Lps 2.25 per minute. Calls are usually charged by the second only, not rounded up to the next minute.
Volunteers commonly use text messages for much communication and cost around Lps 1 (USD 0.05) per message. Phone plans with a fixed monthly allotment of minutes and fee per month are available but the rates are not much better than the pre-paid plans and require a lot of paperwork.
In urban areas, some Volunteers live in houses with Hondutel land lines installed, but in most outlying areas, cell phones are the only phones available.
As of mid-2008, Volunteers' living allowance is calculated without including expenses for maintaining a cell phone, but very nearly all Volunteers in Honduras find money for it in their budgets.
To reach you in an emergency, your family can contact the Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C., at 800.424.8580, extension 1470, during business hours or 202.638.2574 after hours and on weekends. The Office of Special Services will contact Peace Corps/Honduras immediately and will help you contact your family.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
The Volunteer lounge at the Peace Corps office has four computers with Internet access that Volunteers may use for their work. They cannot use Peace Corps staff computers. Regular access to these computers is not possible during pre-service training because the training site is not near the office. However, there is Internet access for a fee at the training center.
Volunteers nearly always have regular access to the Internet, either in their sites or in nearby towns and cities. Volunteers receive a monthly allowance for Internet use and are encouraged to utilize businesses in or near their communities. Internet connections are, with few exceptions, not very fast and slowed further if being shared with other clients at the Internet café.
During training and at the Peace Corps office during their services, Volunteers do not have access to the equipment used by Peace Corps staff, though as of mid-2008 there are four computers dedicated for Volunteer use at the Peace Corps in Tegucigalpa.
Many Volunteers do choose to bring a laptop with them at the start of training and find it useful throughout their time in country; some who did not initially take computers with them either have their laptops sent to them subsequently or bring their laptops back after returning to the U.S. after a vacation. The Peace Corps office in Tegucigalpa has installed secure wireless Internet access points which can be accessed by computers of Volunteers once configured by Peace Corps information technology staff. Other Internet cafés and other businesses around the country have wireless Internet or allow clients with laptops to plug into their wired networks.
Tigo and Claro, the two major cell phone companies, both offer Internet service through their networks. These services, with decent but not fast connection speeds, can be expensive and usually involve a good deal of paperwork. The trouble and expense may not be worth it for Volunteers nearing completion of their service but could be a good investment, in the long run, for a Volunteer near the start of his or her time in Honduras. Plans are usually priced in U.S. dollars and run from $15 to $50 per month.
Volunteers, regardless of whether they have or bring a laptop, will find USB flash drives (also known as thumb drives or memory sticks) useful for exchanging documents with Peace Corps staff, other Volunteers and community partners.
Please keep in mind when considering whether or not to bring a laptop to Honduras that there is the possibility of theft or water damage. Nevertheless, many Volunteers and staff believe it is beneficial to bring a laptop to augment their personal as well as professional work. Most counterparts and agencies where you may be assigned to work may not have this type of equipment, or it may be very slow and dated. If you choose to bring a laptop or other valuable equipment, you should insure it against theft and damage. You will receive information on personal articles insurance from the Peace Corps prior to departure.
Also advisable is a good surge protector to guard electronics against sometimes-temperamental electric current.
Housing and Site Location
Volunteer housing varies according to the area of the country and its climate. In much of the southern region, houses are open and airy to provide ventilation. Houses tend to be more closed in mountainous areas. Some Volunteers live in houses made of adobe, while others live in houses made of wood or cinder blocks or in apartments. Roofing generally consists of clay tiles or corrugated metal. Most Volunteer houses have electricity and running water, though the source of water is often outside the house and water may flow only sporadically. Housing in rural sites may have outdoor latrines instead of indoor plumbing.
Peace Corps/Honduras will provide Volunteers with one secure housing option upon site assignment where Volunteers must live for at least the first two months. Peace Corps/Honduras may also suggest other housing options that can be explored by Volunteers after the initial two-month period. Volunteers will not be assigned to communities where adequate housing is not available.
The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to use good judgment in deciding where and with whom to live after the initial time period. Volunteers are strongly encouraged to live with a family and to take the necessary time to choose a living situation that considers community norms, language acquisition, and personal safety.
During the site-selection process, project teams will determine the availability of adequate housing. If no options are available, the site will not host a Volunteer. Safe and secure housing is a priority, and Peace Corps/Honduras will help you work with the landlord to make any necessary modifications to improve the safety and security of your home, such as adding deadbolt locks and bars on windows. Additionally, the Peace Corps makes an effort to select sites that offer reasonable and safe transportation. Keep in mind that rural areas of Honduras are more rustic than rural areas of the United States.
Peace Corps Volunteer sites are located throughout Honduras with the exception of the departments of Gracias a Dios and the Bay Islands. The site in which you eventually serve will be selected based upon the local needs of the community, your skills and interests, and the overall goals and objectives of the Peace Corps/Honduras project in which you will work.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer, you will receive a monthly allowance to cover your basic living expenses. The living allowance is reviewed at least once a year through a market survey to ensure that it is adequate for a healthy lifestyle comparable to that of the community in which you live. Funds are deposited in local currency into your local bank account; with the current exchange rate, it is roughly equivalent to $200 a month. You will also receive a housing allowance, which varies according to average housing costs in each region.
The living allowance is intended to cover the cost of food, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, transportation, reading materials, and other incidentals. You may find that you receive more compensation than your community partner or supervisor.
You will accrue two days of leave and earn a $24 vacation allowance for each month of service. The vacation allowance is deposited in an account in U.S. dollars twice a year (April and October). This account can be useful for wiring money to or from a bank account in the United States. You will receive a one-time settling-in allowance, paid in local currency equivalent to $250, to buy basic household items when you move to your site. This amount is also reviewed annually and adjusted as needed. If the Peace Corps asks you to travel to attend conferences or workshops, it will deposit additional funds in your account to cover the cost of transportation, food and lodging.
Most Volunteers find that they can live comfortably in Honduras with these allowances. While many bring additional money with them for out-of-country travel, the Peace Corps expects Volunteers to live at the same level as their neighbors and colleagues and therefore strongly discourages Volunteers from supplementing their income with money brought from home.
Credit cards can be used in the capital, in tourist areas and, increasingly, in select businesses in provincial capitals and regional hubs. Traveler’s checks can be cashed for a nominal fee. For safekeeping, trainees can store up to $300 in cash and any traveler’s checks in the Peace Corps safe.
Automated teller machines are available in nearly every major city in Honduras; Volunteers can withdraw money either regularly from their Peace Corps-established Banco Atlántida account occasionally from their U.S. bank account.
Food and Diet
Although a wide variety of food is available in Honduras, beans, rice, plantains, and tortillas are the standard fare (plato tipico) throughout the country. Medium-size and large communities have markets that sell fruits, vegetables, meat products, milk, cheese, and grains (including soy and soy products). Volunteers who live in smaller communities, however, may only be able to purchase basic foods such as noodles, canned goods, and rice and may have to travel to nearby markets every week to purchase perishables.
Vegetarians are able to maintain a healthy diet in Honduras. However, it may be difficult to maintain a strictly vegetarian diet when you live with a family during pre-service training. Families cannot be expected to change their regular diet to meet your needs.
Volunteers in Honduras use public transportation in most situations, even though it can be time-consuming. If you live in a major population center, there will be regular buses from your site to the capital. Smaller communities may have only one bus a day, so you may have to depend on a minivan or truck for transportation. Although in some circumstances it may be necessary to ride in the back of a pickup truck, Volunteers are highly discouraged from traveling this way. Any travel at night is also highly discouraged.
Volunteers are not allowed to drive or ride as a passenger on motorcycles in Honduras. You may drive a vehicle for work-related activities if the counterpart agency requires you to do so, but you must first receive approval from your country director and then obtain a Honduran driver’s license (a valid U.S. driver’s license is required to obtain a Honduran license). In some areas, Volunteers may request a bicycle, horse, or donkey for work transportation, and the Peace Corps will provide the funds for the initial purchase. When riding a bicycle, you are required to wear a helmet, which the Peace Corps will provide. All Volunteers should be prepared to walk regularly, sometimes long distances, to communities within their assignment area. In some cases, because of the distance traveled, Volunteers have to arrange for overnight lodging.
Geography and Climate
For such a small country, Honduras has a wide variety of temperatures—ranging from 60 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the lowlands to 40 to 90 degrees in the mountains. In general, the western region is relatively cool, while the southern and eastern regions are moderate to hot in the valleys and colder in the mountains, especially at night. The tropical coasts and large valleys can be very hot and humid. In most parts of Honduras, the rainy season lasts from June through November. You should come prepared for all types of climates. The training center is located at a high altitude and gets quite cold in the mornings and evenings, so bring some warm clothes.
Most social activities revolve around family or community events and religious holidays. Hondurans are very hospitable and often invite Volunteers to their homes for meals and family celebrations, which are a great opportunity to build ties of trust and sharing. You may encounter more traditional gender roles than exist in the United States. While men have freedom of movement, women may be unable to leave their homes unaccompanied after dark. It is not common for women to jog in Honduras, and those who do never jog alone.
In some parts of Honduras, people abuse alcohol, and in other areas, alcohol is prohibited. You are encouraged to be moderate in your own alcohol consumption because heavy drinking puts you at unnecessary risk and can impact negatively on your and other Volunteers’ reputation in the community.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
To be effective, Volunteers must be respected by the communities in which they work. The Peace Corps builds its reputation not through massive publicity campaigns but through its Volunteers, one community at a time. You should be prepared to be a role model throughout your service. When Volunteers find themselves unable to gain and maintain the respect and confidence of their communities, it is almost always due to the Volunteers’ failure to meet community standards of behavior. Behavior that is detrimental to the image of the Peace Corps or that threatens the reputation or physical safety of other Volunteers can result in administrative separation from the Peace Corps.
Hondurans are fairly traditional and conservative, especially in smaller villages. During pre-service training, you will learn how to dress and act appropriately in such a society, which has double standards for men and women and often for Hondurans and Americans. Your community is likely to hold you to relatively higher standards because you are a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Dressing appropriately can enhance your credibility, since it reflects your respect for the customs and expectations of the people with whom you live and work. Inappropriate dress, like inappropriate behavior, is something that can set you unnecessarily apart from your community. Until you become well-known by Hondurans, your dress will be an important indicator to them. From the biggest city to the remotest village, you will be judged, especially initially, on your appearance.
You will find that some clothing that is considered appropriate for Hondurans is not considered appropriate for you. At the training center, you are expected to dress as you would on the job. Shirts and shoes must be worn at all times, and shorts and T-shirts are not appropriate.
Men will be asked to remove any earrings during pre-service training and the first few months at their site. Pierced eyebrows, noses, and tongues are not permitted during pre-service training and are discouraged during service. If you have a tattoo, it is best to keep it covered. Tattoos are often associated with gang affiliation. A new anti-gang law was recently passed authorizing police to perform searches on people who are considered to be probable gang members. (Though gang tattoos are of a specific nature, you need to be aware of this Honduran reality.)
Hondurans like to dress well and to be neat and clean. Honduran businessmen do not normally wear suits and ties, so male Volunteers can wear a short-sleeved, button-down shirt or nice polo shirt and khakis or nice jeans in professional settings. Casual clothing can be worn at home and in nonformal situations. Low-cut necklines are not appropriate for women, but sleeveless blouses and dresses are fine, especially in coastal areas and certain valleys. Do not bring any military-style clothing (i.e., olive green or camouflage), which Honduran customs officials reserve the right to confiscate.
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 (often times 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 have occurred on many occasions, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Honduras. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
You are likely to derive much satisfaction from helping to improve the living conditions of Hondurans and from learning a new culture and language. You will also encounter unusual social and cultural situations that will require flexibility and understanding on your part. By communicating honestly and demonstrating an interest in Honduras and its people, you will soon come to enjoy your community, its customs, and your role as a Volunteer. A low level of interest, motivation, or participation by community members and co-workers, however, may cause you some frustration. You must remember that development takes time and that you may not immediately see any meaningful impact from your work.
The Peace Corps is not for everyone. Being a Volunteer requires greater dedication and commitment than most other work environments. It is for confident, self-starting, concerned individuals who are interested in participating in the development of other countries and increasing human understanding across cultural barriers. The key to satisfying work as a Peace Corps Volunteer is the ability to establish successful human relationships at all levels with your host family, the community members with whom you work, counterpart agencies and school officials, and your fellow Volunteers. This requires patience, sensitivity, empathy, and a positive, professional attitude. If you have the personal qualities needed to meet the challenges of two years of service in Honduras, you will have a rewarding, enriching, and lasting experience. At the same time, you will contribute to the development of Honduras and leave a part of yourself and your culture behind.