Sierra Leone

Living Conditions

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

You will be invited to the major celebrations in your village, such as marriages and baptisms, which usually feature music and a feast for all participants. There may be an opportunity to study local dance or drumming. Some villages may also have dance halls (discos) or bars, but your activities there will be decided by the cultural norms in your community. There will also be times you see other Volunteers and take advantage of the time to relax and process your new life as a Volunteer. The best opportunities for socializing, however, will come when you have made friends at your site. Be prepared to spend a Friday night talking about how much rain fell that week and what that means for the crops or sharing ways you adapted to your new home with a fellow teacher who just moved to your community. You will find yourself looking forward to moments like these.    

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Much importance is placed on appearance in this culture, and you should always try your best to present a neat, clean, and professional appearance. In general, dress is more conservative, particularly for women. Short skirts and tops that expose your stomach or lower back, low-rise jeans/pants, backless dresses, spaghetti strap tops, and shorts are considered inappropriate for female Volunteers. Slacks are acceptable for women, although most women will wear skirts or dresses. Long hair and long beards are not normal for men in this society. While there is no restriction in place, please be aware that a male Volunteer with long hair or a long beard will attract unwanted attention and might have to work harder to prove his professionalism. Shorts are normally worn by boys or students rather than men. It is appropriate to wear shorts for sporting events or around the house and yard; otherwise, pants or jeans are appropriate. Visible tattoos and body piercing may attract unwanted attention and commentary. Earrings and nose rings on men may create concerns among supervisors and counterparts, or minimally, bring questions and unwanted attention. It is against the law for civilians to wear military fatigue dress or camouflaged uniforms or clothing.