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Peace Corps Volunteer
2 years, 3 months
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Up to 12 months
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3-6 months
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Living Conditions in Rwanda

Communications

Mail

Mail takes a minimum of two weeks to arrive in Rwanda. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately, this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. Volunteers are requested to follow the mailing procedures described in the Peace Corps/Rwanda Volunteer Handbook. Your address during training will be as follows:

PC/Rwanda
B.P. 5657
Kigali, Rwanda

Telephones

PC Rwanda provides a stipend for a basic text and call enabled phone. Most PCVs choose to bring their current smartphone with them to Rwanda. Only unlocked cell phones that accept international SIM cards will work in Rwanda. Some US carriers provide e-sims that will allow you to connect to your US number while in service. This can be convenient for 2-step verification linked to your US number – such as accessing a banking app. For those interested in purchasing a smartphone in Rwanda, the cost of Android phones varies between $100 and $450. Cell phones in Rwanda can make international calls, usually costing between 5–20 cents per minute to call the United States if using cellular network. Calls using data/Wi-Fi via WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype, or other apps are much less costly.

Internet

Wi-Fi access is available at many PCV work sites, post offices, hotels, restaurants, and cybercafes, but can be slow. Data is available for purchase through the cell service provider with a variety of affordable internet bundles. Not all PCV sites have strong data coverage. Most smartphones with data access can be used as a mobile hotspot to connect other devices such as laptops or e-readers.

Housing and site location

As a Volunteer, your site may vary from a small town or city to a very rural site. Some PCV sites have electricity and running water, but many do not. Come to Rwanda prepared to use lamps and candles for lighting, to cook using a gas stove, wood, or charcoal, and to have water delivered to your house in 5-gallon reusable jugs.

PCV housing consists at a minimum of a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. The quality and construction of your house will vary depending on your project, the area of the country to which you are posted, and the types of houses available in the community. Some PCV housing will be in an independent compound, while others may be within the same compound as the PCV’s work site or other residents.

Volunteers receive a modest settling in allowance from Peace Corps for basic household furnishings and accessories. Housing will be identified and approved according to Peace Corps safety and security standards.

Living allowance and money management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local community. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, many Volunteers choose to use personal funds for vacation travel while on leave. For this, credit/debit cards are preferable to cash.

Food and diet

In most parts of Rwanda there is a wide choice of foods, ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables (such as cabbage, avocadoes, mangoes, bananas, pineapples, carrots, passion fruit, and tree tomatoes) to starches (such as potatoes, plantains, corn, rice, and cassava) to meats (primarily goat and beef, with some chicken and fish). Even so, the average Rwandan diet tends to be low in seasoning and high in starches compared to US diets. Fruits and vegetables are seasonal, which means some items may not be available at all times. Vegetarian and vegan Volunteers will have little difficulty in continuing their diets after becoming familiar with local food items and their preparation.

Transportation

All Volunteers travel in Rwanda using local transportation (i.e. foot, public buses, vans, or taxis). Upon approved request, Peace Corps will provide bicycles and helmets to Volunteers who can use them for transportation at their sites (not all sites or Volunteers are compatible with bicycle travel due to the steep terrain). Motorcycle taxis are a common form of travel in Rwanda. Health Volunteers use moto taxis to visit their catchment communities as part of their regular job duties. Moto taxi use is prohibited in all other contexts. Health Volunteers are provided helmets and training on moto taxi use. Volunteers may not own or operate motorized vehicles.

Social activities

The most common form of entertainment in Rwanda is socializing among friends and neighbors. Some Volunteers visit other Volunteers on weekends and holidays. The Peace Corps encourages Volunteers to remain at their sites as much as possible to develop relationships with community members, but also recognizes the need to make occasional trips to regional centers and to visit friends. You will find it easy to make friends in your community and to participate in weddings, funerals, birthday celebrations, and other social events. It is impossible to overemphasize the rewards of establishing rapport with one’s supervisors, co-workers, and other community members. A sincere effort to learn the local language will greatly facilitate these interactions.

Professionalism, dress, and behavior

Professionalism in the Peace Corps requires an awareness of the host community workplace culture, community values, and your self-presentation.  To maintain a positive, culturally appropriate professional standing within a host community or workplace, Volunteers may need to adjust their style of dress, hair style, facial hair, make-up, piercings, manner of greeting others, etc. to demonstrate respect for local culture and customs.  How you present yourself, in both informal and professional settings, is a reflection of you as an individual and of you as a representative of Peace Corps and the United States. In the U.S., dress (and other elements of personal appearance) may be seen as an expression of personal freedom and identity. In Rwanda, the way you dress and present yourself will be interpreted as an expression of regard – or disregard – for those host community members around you.

Volunteers are encouraged to spend time in their communities, to develop their language skills, and to get to know the individual members of their community to better understand their traditions, culture, and local norms. As mutual trust is established over time, there may be opportunities for you to adjust your personal appearance and dress outside of the more rigid local standards. You are encouraged to discuss these potential adjustments with staff and other cultural mentors.

Rwandans are conservative in attire and grooming. In professional working environments in which Peace Corps is invited to serve, Volunteers are held to the same standards as their Rwandan counterparts. Rwandan men wear trousers such as chinos and button-down shirts in work settings. Jackets and ties are occasional requirements for certain activities. Men keep their hair cut short and well-groomed. Facial hair is kept neat and short. Rwandan women wear long dresses and skirts that fall below the knee or trouser suits with tunic style tops in both work and leisure environments. Women may wear their hair long, but keep it styled conservatively. Tattoos, piercings on men, and long hair on men (including locs), are traditionally not accepted in professional environments, although trends are changing in urban areas. Volunteers with visible tattoos and male Volunteers with piercings or long hair will have more difficulty integrating into work settings and may consider covering tattoos, removing piercings, and/or cutting hair short.

In Rwanda, many Volunteers live in modest housing provided by their school or health clinic that vary both in size and resources depending on what is available in the host community. Some housing will have running water and electricity, some will not. Volunteers might use kerosene lanterns for light, and charcoal and/or gas stoves for cooking. Volunteers receive a modest settling in allowance from Peace Corps for basic household furnishings and accessories. Housing will be identified and approved according to Peace Corps safety and security standards. Regardless of the type of housing the Volunteer receives, they will be expected to keep their space tidy and clean as home hygiene is prioritized within Rwandan society. Living in an unclean environment (un-swept floors, dirty dishes, etc.) can be seen as an embarrassment to work partners and can negatively impact both professional and personal relationships.