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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 Uganda

Communications

Mail

Letters take a minimum of two weeks to arrive in Uganda if sent by airmail; packages will take longer. If family and friends send letters within the first five weeks after your departure, you can use the following address:

[Your name], Peace Corps Trainee
P.O. Box 29348
Kampala, Uganda

You are responsible to provide your address to those who will send letters and packages.

Email access and telephones

Email access is limited. Volunteers often purchase portable Internet connection modems and/ or travel to an urban area for access at Internet cafes. This may mean access as little as once or twice a month depending on the Volunteer’s location. Volunteers typically purchase mobile phones and secure local phone services through a “pay as you go” plan. This means they pay for every minute when they place a call. Unlike the U.S., received calls are free to the receiver. Most Volunteers bring a laptop computer for work, maintaining social connections, and leisure. While many have full size laptops, netbook computers are lighter and more packable. The possibility of solar charging is a bonus.

Housing and site location

Volunteers live in urban, semi-urban, and rural areas in village and town neighborhoods, at school campuses, and in clinic compounds. Living conditions vary widely. The host organization is required to provide you with two rooms, access to good water, bathing, and toilet facilities. One room typically serves as a bedroom and the other room a kitchen and sitting room. These rooms can be standalone small houses or attached to a row of houses. Some basic furnishings may be provided, and you will also receive a modest settling-in allowance from the Peace Corps to help with additional basics for your household. Most houses do not have running water or electricity. You should expect to use a pit latrine, a kerosene lantern, and stove. Although Peace Corps staff makes every effort to collaborate with communities and organizations to see that housing is ready for Volunteers when they arrive at their sites, there may be delays due to limited resources. At nearly all sites, privacy will be extremely limited. Children may be around constantly, and they can be curios. You will have to adapt to a more public life.

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 comparable to their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often 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 an amount to suit your travel plans and needs. 

Food and diet

You will generally buy your food from outdoor markets or small shops. Most Volunteers cook for themselves. The local diet is basic but healthy, including a variety of plant protein foods (beans, peanuts, soybeans), and there are a lot of vegetables, greens, and starches. Fish and meats are easily sourced. There are likely local restaurants at or near your site. Imported foods, while expensive, can be found in larger towns. During training, there will be sessions on safe food preparation and proper nutrition. There is a Peace Corps/Uganda cookbook that demonstrates how to use local ingredients. A vegetarian diet is relatively easy to follow in Uganda after you become familiar with the local food. Vegetarians should be prepared to explain the concept of vegetarianism to others.

Transportation

Volunteers travel primarily by foot, bicycle, or public transport. Public transportation to and from the nearest urban or trading center is available near every site—in most cases several times a day. Public transport is likely to be crowded and uncomfortable. Sometimes transport is infrequent and unreliable. To facilitate fieldwork, Volunteers are given an allowance to purchase a bike. Still, many of the communities and jobsites Volunteers visit may entail a long and challenging ride. Some Volunteers must be able to ride a bicycle in order to do their jobs. When riding a bicycle, Volunteers must wear helmets (provided by the Peace Corps). When traveling to and from major cities, there are large, comfortable buses that operate on schedules. Tickets that designate specific seat numbers are purchased in advance or near the time of departure. To get around in a city, Volunteers often use taxis known locally as “private hires.” Peace Corps Uganda prohibits the use of motorcycles by Volunteers as drivers or passengers because of the extreme safety risks they pose. In some cases, special permission is granted to use motorcycle transportation for work-related reasons. There is a detailed process with strict guidelines to secure the permission.

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, reflects 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, develop their language skills, and 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.

Ugandans view dressing appropriately as a sign of respect for others. Dressing in neat, clean, and conservative clothes is considered professional and can assist integration into the community.

For Volunteers identifying and presenting as men, clothing should include khaki pants and a dress shirt. In some environments, a nice polo shirt is acceptable. Ties are worn for formal occasions and major functions. Polo shirts are also acceptable in more casual work settings.

For Volunteers identifying and presenting as women, skirts, and dresses at or below the knees are considered appropriate in most professional environments; short skirts and low-cut or sleeveless tops are highly inappropriate. Dress pants may be acceptable in some less rural sites. Volunteers are encouraged to observe their surroundings and assess norms around appropriate clothing.

In general, blue jeans, T-shirts, and casual sandals are not considered appropriate in the workplace.

Facial piercings are not generally accepted (other than earrings for women) in professional settings and may make it more difficult to integrate into the community. Tattoos are uncommon in Uganda. Volunteers with tattoos can expect to cover them whenever possible, especially when in their community.

For men, beards are acceptable if they are neat and trimmed.

During pre-service training, Trainees are oriented on culturally appropriate behavior and cultural competence.

Social activities

In Uganda, the most common form of entertainment is socializing among friends and neighbors. Learning the language and being open facilitates integration. Relationships in the community are key to a successful service.

Volunteers integrate and socialize in their communities by participating in weddings, funerals, birthday celebrations, and other events. They can visit other Volunteers at their sites or other locations on weekends or holidays. Some larger towns have cinemas.

There are many opportunities for outdoor activities—bird watching, wildlife, hiking, chimpanzee trekking, and so much more. Water activities, including taking boat rides down the Nile River or boating/sailing on Lake Victoria, are popular.

Sports

Participating in sports such as football (soccer), cricket, rugby, basketball, swimming, and volleyball is common in many places in Uganda.

Some locations may have small gyms, boxing centers, or other venues for physical activity. Pool tables are common in semi-outdoor locations.

Some Volunteers engage in jogging, hiking, and biking. This should be done with knowledge and information about the safety and security of engaging in these activities. These may be more safely done with others rather than alone.

There are locations in the Uganda which are known for adventure sports such as bungee jumping, white water rafting, and tubing on the Nile. Volunteers are discouraged from participating in these adventures because subsequent emergency medical care may not be locally available.

Whatever physical activity Volunteers engage in, knowledge about appropriate dress while doing it in the community is critical.