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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 Sierra Leone

Communications

Mail

Mail may be sent to:

[your name]
Peace Corps Volunteer
P.O. Box 905
Freetown, Sierra Leone
West Africa

Letter and parcel mail may be received at the above post office box number.

Telephones

If you would like to bring an iPhone or other smartphone, consult with your carrier to determine your options. Peace Corps/Sierra Leone provides each trainee with a cell phone upon arrival. This phone is linked to a “family plan” that allows trainees/Volunteers to call Peace Corps staff and fellow Volunteers/trainees for free. Not every Volunteer will have cell phone coverage at their home, but Peace Corps staff will ensure those Volunteers have an alternative.  

Internet

Overall, you will have much less Internet access than you are used to in the United States. Some larger towns have Internet access in small Internet cafes, but bandwidth is typically limited in these centers. It is recommended to insure any laptop or device prior to arrival in country.

Housing and site location

Before Volunteers arrive, Peace Corps/Sierra Leone staff members, in collaboration with local partners, identify safe and secure Volunteer housing. Housing is provided by the school and/or community. Each Volunteer will have his/her own house. There is alternating current (ac) with a nominal voltage of 230 and approximately 50 hertz. Electricity will likely not be available and water may need to be carried from a neighborhood pump. Volunteers will have their own latrine and shower facilities. You must be prepared to accept the living conditions to which you are assigned as you will be living under the same conditions as the people with, and for whom, you work. The Peace Corps inspects all potential housing to ensure it meets its standards for health and safety. Most Volunteers are assigned to work in rural towns or large villages. The workplace will be within walking distance of your home, but it might be a long walk! Each Volunteer will be provided with a mountain bike and helmet, footlocker for safekeeping of valuables, medical kit, and water filter. Dependent on community need, the Peace Corps makes every effort to cluster Volunteers within reasonable distances of each other in order to promote collaborative efforts and minimize isolation.

Living allowance and money management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. 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, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. For this, credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs. 

Food and diet

In Sierra Leone, rice is the staple. Other favorite foods include plantains, fufu, and okra. Fufu is prepared from fermented cassava (manioc) and eaten with a soup. The typical meal is a sauce called “soup” or “gravy” poured over rice. They can be thick stews of vegetables with meat and/or fish, or more of a broth with meat and vegetables. Meat is not trimmed the way Americans are accustomed, so there are frequently bones or cartilage. The variety may be beef or chicken. Fish may be fresh, dried, or smoked. If meat or fish is not available, peanuts are always a good source of protein. If you have the ability to remove the meat and eat the rest of the dish, then you will have more dietary choices. Strict vegetarians and vegans will be challenged. Pineapples, bananas papaya, coconuts, and mangos are grown locally. It can be challenging to eat a well-balanced meal during some seasons and the variety of foods may be limited. Most types of food are available in large grocery stores in the capitol; Western-style foods will be rare additions to a Volunteer’s diet.

Transportation

Volunteers primarily use public transportation. Many of the roads and means of public transportation are in poor condition. Most rural roads are unpaved and for much of the year will be either muddy and rutted, or dusty, depending on the season. Up-country there are small taxis and medium-sized mini buses. In cars, there are usually two passengers in the front passenger seat and four in the back seat. You might also have chickens, produce, and some children (as only adults are counted as passengers). Be prepared to let go of your need for personal space. Motorcycle taxis have become widely used in Sierra Leone. Due to safety concerns, Peace Corps Volunteers are not permitted to use them. Vehicles from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and United Nations agencies (WFP, UNHCR, UNICEF) traverse the country and are sometimes an option based on relationships and friendships. You will receive in-depth training on all of the safety measures and policies related to transportation.

Social activities

Social activities are important mechanisms of integration and socialization. In Sierra Leone, these activities include sporting events, naming ceremonies, musical album launchings, marriages, etc.

While most members of the community will attend with formal invitations, Volunteers may attend with or without invitation. But once formally invited, tokens of financial assistance may be expected.

This means that Volunteers can expect to have small notes in cash while attending these events in the event they are asked to contribute.

It is noteworthy that Sierra Leonean people are passionate about soccer and soccer tournaments can be highly competitive, at times to the point of fights breaking out. It is important to remain alert and vigilant when attending sporting events.    

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 many host countries where Peace Corps Volunteers serve, the way you dress and present yourself may 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 Volunteers to adjust their personal appearance and dress outside of the more rigid local standards. Volunteers are encouraged to discuss these potential adjustments with staff and other cultural mentors.

Appearance is of the utmost importance in Sierra Leone. Even those with severe financial limitations and those who experience poverty in Sierra Leone pay a lot of attention to their appearance. Most Sierra Leoneans, who can afford it, like to be well-dressed and neat. It is jokingly said that if you meet a well-dressed man in the streets of Freetown, one who has his shirt tucked into his trousers, with his beard and hair well-trimmed and cut, that man is a teacher. This means that in Sierra Leone, teachers are among those who are expected to be well-groomed. The quality of the clothes does not matter, one is expected to be clean and neat.

During important gatherings like marriage ceremonies, naming ceremonies, etc., the way in which people are welcomed, entertained, and respected is in accordance with their appearance. For example, a person who is nicely dressed will receive a warm welcome compared to one who is not.

How one conducts themselves matters a great deal in Sierra Leonean culture. It is another key element for social integration. How a person behaves will determine how they will be received in their community. These are examples of accepted and expected behaviours from community members:

  • Speaking respectfully.
  • Speaking with humility.
  • Recognizing people’s rights.
  • Resolving conflict peacefully.
  • Respecting others’ viewpoints.
  • Being ready to make amends.

A person exhibiting the behaviours above will likely find it relatively easy to integrate and adapt to Sierra Leonean culture and be warmly welcome into the community. Sierra Leoneans are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.