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Packing Guidance for Sierra Leone

This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.

As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.

In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.

This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!

This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.

Sierra Leone is a humid tropical country with a dry season and a wet season. The temperature averages around 85 degrees, rarely exceeding 90 in the day and rarely falling lower than 70 at night. Dry season begins in November and ends in April whilst the rainy Season begins in May and ends in October.

Raincoats and umbrellas are available in Sierra Leone but may not be the quality you are used to. We recommend bringing a light weight but breathable rain jacket and/or umbrella.

While 70 degrees may seem warm to many in the United States, once you adjusted it may feel quite cool. We recommend bringing a warm jacket or hoodie for chilly rainy season nights.

Peace Corps Sierra Leone provides the following items:

  • Mobile phone - 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.
  • Water filter
  • Bicycle
  • Helmet
  • Mosquito net – Sierra Leone is a malaria endemic country. In addition to taking malaria prophylaxis, Peace Corps Volunteers are required to sleep under a mosquito net.
  • Medical kit - Peace Corps Sierra Leone provides all Volunteers with a medkit. See the full list of items.
  • Walking around allowance
  • Settling-in allowance

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:

  • Pets
  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
  • Drones
  • Automobiles or motorcycles
  • Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
  • Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms

Drugs

Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.

Work supplies

For both the education and health sectors, Peace Corps Sierra Leone promotes the use of local resources in Volunteer work. This presents a challenge as many schools and clinics have very few resources. One of the jobs of the Volunteer is to work with counterparts to identify local solutions to resource constraints using available means. Because of this, we discourage Volunteers bringing job aids from outside that may create conditions that are not replicable after the Volunteer’s departure.

Food

With the exception of high nutrition snack foods such as trail bars or trail mix that you may want for your first week to help transition to the local diet, please do not bring large quantities of food. Part of cultural integration is learning to embrace and share local ways of eating.

Below is guidance on clothing expectations and cultural norms for work as well as leisure and recreation. Peace Corps Sierra Leone highly recommends that you plan on transitioning to locally available clothing as part of integration into your new community. Pre-service training is busy, and it takes time to adjust to feeling comfortable buying at the market or having clothing tailored.

We recommend that you bring enough clothing for your first four months in Sierra Leone. Clothes are washed by hand and line dried during the weekends with host family.

Work clothing

Appropriate professional attire for both the education and health sector consists of long pants, jeans, long skirts, or long dresses, and shirts/tops that cover the shoulders and upper arms, waist, and lower back. All dresses and skirts should cover the knees, even when sitting. We recommend that you bring at least one nice outfit such as button-down/slacks or blouse/skirt for high-level meetings.

Because of the heat in the classroom (for the education sector) and because the health sector often requires biking to satellite work locations, we recommend lightweight, breathable fabrics, provided they are not see-through.

While clothes may have quite a bit of wear and tear due to rough washing, transportation, and manual labor, great care should be taken to be neat, clean, and presentable. Being neat and cleanly dressed is a sign of respect and pride in Sierra Leone. Dirty or ripped clothing is unacceptable in professional and public environments.

Shorts are normally worn for exercise, or by children and students rather than adults and are not appropriate in professional environments. Similarly, short skirts, tops that expose the stomach or lower back, low-rise pants, backless dresses, and tank tops and spaghetti-strap tops are considered inappropriate in rural and professional settings. Pants are acceptable for women, although many women in rural and professional settings will wear long skirts or dresses.

Undergarments

Underwear and bras are available locally but may be of lower quality than you are used to and may not be easily available in your size. They also tend to wear out more quickly due to rough washing and line drying. We recommend you bring at least a six-month supply, if not more.

Leisure and recreational clothing

  • Leisure: Undershirts, tank tops, lightweight T-Shirts, shorts, yoga pants, and leggings are appropriate for sleep and lounging at home.
  • Exercise: It is appropriate to wear shorts and tank-tops for sports and exercise. If shorts are worn for exercise, they should be knee-length or longer. Sports bras and tight-fitting leggings should be covered for public exercise.
  • Swimming: Sierra Leone has many rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and beaches, and provides ample opportunities for swimming. Swimsuits should be modest, such as knee-length board shorts, one-piece swimsuits, and modest bikinis.
  • Sun protection: The sun in the dry season can be very strong. Sunscreen is difficult to find in Sierra Leone and is expensive. We recommend bringing a hat. Sunglasses are available locally but may not be the quality you are used to and may not offer the same protections such as UV and polarization.
  • One pair of comfortable dress shoes
  • One pair of durable, comfortable walking shoes, for instance a pair of sturdy sandals
  • One pair of running/athletic shoes
  • One pair of sturdy work boots, especially for Health Volunteers
  • Flip-flops and slides can be easily found in-country.

You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.

Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.

See a detailed list of items included in the medical kit.

The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

See additional guidance from the Office of Medical Services.

Additional guidance from Peace Corps Sierra Leone:

  • Three-month supply of any medications, to last through pre-service training; copy of prescriptions
  • Two to four toothbrushes
  • At least two tubes of toothpaste
  • Mouthwash with fluoride
  • Face wash
  • Moisturizers, lotions
  • Shampoo, conditioner, and soap
  • Brush and/or comb
  • Razor blades (enough for your normal shaving routine)
  • Makeup and nail polish (if you choose)
  • Tweezers, nail clippers, pumice stone
  • Travel toothbrush and soap holders
  • Gel hand sanitizer
  • Two pairs of prescription glasses
  • Feminine hygiene products, preferably menstrual cup (Diva Cup, Keeper, etc.)
  • Sunscreen and mosquito repellent are included in your medical kit. Just bring a small supply to get started, unless you want a specific brand

Voltage

Sierra Leone runs on 220v. Most phone and laptop chargers are compatible with both 120v (US standard) and 220v. Electronics sold in Sierra Leone are 220v compatible. Make sure in advance of bringing any electronics from the US that they are compatible with 220v. Electronics that are only 120v compatible may burn out, catch fire, or damage the battery if they are plugged into 220v. Small travel voltage converters are available for purchase online, but are generally low amperage and will not support high amperage electronics such as hair dryers or kitchen appliances.

Power surges

The electrical grid in Sierra Leone is extremely unreliable with frequent power outages, power surges, or mixed sources of electricity, such as gas or diesel generators. Because of this we recommend using a surge protector when plugging in your electronics. Surge protector multiplugs are available in Sierra Leone, but may be more expensive than what is available in the US. Before buying a surge protector, make sure that it is 220v compatible.

Access and reliability

Access to electricity varies greatly at Volunteer sites. Some Volunteers will have electricity in their homes, others will have a pay for service charging booth in their community, while others may have to travel to their nearest road town to recharge devices. Many Volunteers find extra batteries, battery extenders, and/or solar chargers very useful for keeping phones and other small devices charged.

Because power in Sierra Leone is unreliable, we recommend you bring at least on rechargeable headlamp and/or rechargeable lantern. Candles, flashlights, and rechargeable LED strips are widely available in Sierra Leone.

Outlets

Outlets in Sierra Leone are not sourced from a single country. It is common to find US, French, and UK outlets – sometimes in the same room. Plug adapters are available for purchase in Sierra Leone but are sometimes low quality and may present a fire hazard if they fit poorly. We recommend bringing at least one high quality adapter or adapter set that is compatible with US, French, and UK plugs/outlets.

Personal devices

Peace Corps Sierra Leone does not require Volunteers to bring laptops, external hard drives, tablets, smart phones or other devices. The Peace Corps Sierra Leone issued smart phones and shared office computers that are adequate for all work and reporting requirements. That said, many volunteers find laptops, personal smart phones, tablets, and other personal devices convenient for entertainment and work. Given how hard the climate is on electronics and how difficult it is to find repairs, if you chose to bring a personal device, we recommend bringing used or inexpensive ones.

Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items you will want to consider bringing with you. Below is a description of the common activities Volunteers engage in and what different Volunteers have said they enjoy having that might be more difficult to find in-country. Note: these items are not required or even recommended, but they might be nice to have.

Arts and crafts

Art and craft supplies are available and expensive in Sierra Leone but can be an excellent hobby and way to bond with community members and students. If there is an art or craft that is near and dear to you, you may want to consider bringing some supplies.

Books

The Peace Corps Sierra Leone Volunteer Resource Center has a lending library of novels and educational textbooks that are available to Volunteers. Some Volunteers prefer e-readers to paper books due to the weight of transport, but it in some sites it can be difficult to charge e-readers, and the humid climate can be hard on electronics in general.

Camping

There are many camping opportunities available in Sierra Leone although they are not as developed as traditional campgrounds would be in the US. For those who enjoy camping, you may want to consider bringing a rainfly, footprint, a sleeping pad, high quality hand pump water filter, and a lightweight sleep sack. Consider additional camping gear based on what you would normally use. Keep in mind that you are prohibited from bringing fuels or other flammable materials.

Cooking

Many Volunteers find comfort and connection in cooking for themselves and others. Traditional Sierra Leonean kitchens are very different from kitchens in the United States. Cooking is typically done in pots rather than pans, food is cut while being held in the hand rather than on cutting boards, and meals are heated over charcoal, wood fires, or gas burners rather than stove tops – although most Volunteers use a two-burner gas range similar to a stove top. For Volunteers who love to cook, consider bringing a good quality pan, small cutting board, decent chef knife and sharpening rod, and any other “essential” cooking utensils.

Food

Traditional Sierra Leone cuisine consists primarily of rice with a plasas (green leaves), soup or gravy. See Living Conditions for additional detail.

Herbs and spices from other parts of the world are expensive and difficult to find. Some Volunteers choose to bring an assortment of dried spices for a taste of home.

Snacks and supplements: High-nutrition snack foods such as granola or protein bars can be difficult to find or are expensive, but many volunteers supplement their diets with locally available peanuts and peanut butter. Snacks like Plantain chips, cookies, and crackers are widely available. Vitamins and nutritional supplements are widely unavailable outside of Freetown.

Spicy foods: Sierra Leonean loves spicy food. Dried hot pepper and pepper sauces are expensive, and delicious.

Coffee: Instant coffee is not widely available and popular in Sierra Leone. Ground coffee is difficult to find outside of Freetown and is very expensive.

Gardening

Many Volunteers take up gardening as a physical outlet and to produce herbs and vegetables that are harder to come by in rural and regional settings. Most gardening tools are available locally, such as hand trowels, pocketknives, watering can, hoe and clippers.

  • Greens: Sierra Leone has abundant cooking greens, such as sweet potato leaves, Krain krain, spinach and cassava leaves, but other fresh greens like lettuces.
  • Vegetables: Fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, bitter eggplant, and squash (known locally as pumpkin) are available seasonally.
  • Seeds: Seeds are hard to find in Sierra Leone and often have low germination rates. If augmenting your diet with home-grown goods appeals to you, consider bringing a selection of seeds.

Games

Ludo and checkers are the unofficial board games of Sierra Leone. Scrabble, monopoly, and chess are locally available in Freetown, but are less known in the villages. Other games such as cards, Uno, Settlers of Catan, or other card or board games can be fun and engaging ways of connecting to your community – Just no gambling!

Gifts

While by no means required, a small gift can be a nice way to make early connections with host families and community members. Calendars of American Scenes, coffee table books, pictures of yourself in the US, and small knickknacks are very much appreciated.

Household goods

Pillows, bedsheets, towels and other household goods are available in Sierra Leone, but the comfort and quality may be far below what is available in the United States. Consider packing any “can’t do without” household items.

Music

Many Volunteers who play a musical instrument find comfort and connection by bringing an instrument with them to Sierra Leone. Please be aware that the climate can be very hard on musical instruments and they may be attractive to theft. If you consider bringing a musical instrument please do not bring something of high monetary or sentimental value. Many Volunteers enjoy having a small, portable Bluetooth speaker to play music in their home and with community members. Please see the below section on Electricity before selecting a rechargeable speaker.

Personal items

Showing photos of your home and family can be an excellent way to connect with your new community and work partners. Consider bringing a small photo album with prints as internet connectivity is not always reliable. Consider bringing other sentimental or personal items that help keep you grounded and connected to your sense of home and self, but please do not bring anything that you could not live without in case of loss or damage.

Photography

Many Volunteers take excellent photos on their smart phones. For more avid photographers, consider bringing your camera equipment, but understand that it may present a temptation to theft. Please consider how you intend to use your camera equipment, especially when taking photos of people. “Extractive” photography is highly discouraged by Peace Corps Sierra Leone and can create conflict when photos are taken without the subject’s consent. Please seek consent before photographing others.

Sports

Sierra Leone loves sports! Primarily football (soccer), but also basketball, and Volleyball. Sports can be a great way to connect with your community and students. Footballs, Volleyballs & net, and basketballs are available locally, but other types of sports equipment can be harder to find, such as Frisbees, etc.

Travel

Many Volunteers travel within Sierra Leone and internationally over the course of their service. Peace Corps Sierra Leone recommends that you secure checked baggage during international flights with TSA-approved locks. You may also consider bringing lockable cables for securing bags to the top of vehicles while using local transportation. Other items you may consider are a backpacking backpack, small mouthed water bottle (easier to drink from on bumpy roads), and a debit or credit card if you intend to travel outside of Sierra Leone.