Safety and Security
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American can put a Volunteer at risk. Property theft and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without a serious safety and security incident. Together, the Peace Corps and Volunteers can reduce risk, but cannot truly eliminate all risk. Read more on how the Peace Corps approaches safety and security.
Support from Staff
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your service. The plan includes information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for responding safety and security incidents.
Our first priority after an incident is to make sure the Volunteer is safe and receiving any necessary medical treatment. The faster an incident is reported, the faster we can provide support, including security, medical, emotional, and legal. Peace Corps staff will also support Volunteers who choose to make a formal complaint with local law enforcement. It’s important for Volunteers to report incidents as soon as possible after they occur so that Peace Corps can assess and determine if there is a lingering or ongoing safety and security concern for either Volunteer victim or their peer Volunteers, and take the necessary precautions to preserve the right to file a complaint if they choose to do so. The Peace Corps will train you to develop strategies mitigate risk and how to respond if you are the victim of a crime, including how to get to a safe location quickly and contact your Peace Corps office.
Crimes that do occur abroad are investigated and prosecuted by local jurisdictional authorities. If you decide to file a complaint, the Peace Corps will assist you in navigating this process. All Volunteers who are victims of crime have access to the Office of Victim Advocacy, which provides information on the medical, emotional, and legal support options available, and will support you through the process. The Office of Victim Advocacy is available 24/7.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
As a Volunteer, you must be prepared to assume a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. To reduce the likelihood that you will become a victim of crime, you can take steps to make yourself less of a target such as integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. In many ways, you can do what you would do if you moved to a new city anywhere: Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware.
Factors that Contribute to Risk
Numerous factors can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within a Volunteer’s control. By far the most common crime that Volunteers experience is theft of property, which is more likely to happen when Volunteers are away from their sites, in crowded locations (such as markets or on public transportation), and when leaving items unattended. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people in smaller villages/towns know each other and are more likely to look out for their neighbors. Tourist attractions in large towns are favorite worksites for pickpockets.
Before you depart for service, you can take measures to reduce risk:
- Leave valuable objects in the United States, particularly those that are irreplaceable or have sentimental value
- Leave copies of important documents and account numbers with someone you trust in the States
- Purchase a hidden money pouch or “dummy” wallet as a decoy
- Purchase personal articles insurance
After you arrive in-country, you will receive detailed information about common crimes, factors that contribute to Volunteer risk, and local strategies to reduce that risk. Some of those include avoiding high-risk areas, knowing the local language, choosing safe routes for travel, and limiting alcohol consumption. You will also be informed of local safety and security policies, including any prohibitions on using certain types of public transportation, hitchhiking, and; avoiding high-risk recreation activities; and others.
Please take time to review the crime data and statistics for Uganda.
Safety Issues In-CountryWhile you may be much more likely to be pick-pocketed in crowded areas of Kampala, there is a “borrowing” culture in rural areas, which may cause your property to disappear. Ugandans do not have the same concept of private property as Americans and if you leave something where it could be taken, even within your compound or house, a local may take it without asking if he or she perceives that you are either not currently using it or you own too much. Traditionally, when “borrowing” things that are not currently in use, the borrower must eventually return the items to the owner, but when it comes to foreigners, items are seldom returned.
Years ago, Kampala was the site of infrequent rebel activities, which are otherwise restricted to the far north or west. They took the form of small-scale attacks in busy, populated areas. Although no Volunteers were harmed in these attacks, the potential for harm exists, and the Peace Corps program in Uganda was suspended in 1999 as a result of such attacks. With the program’s reopening in 2001, several program changes were made to enhance Volunteer safety and the sustainability of the program as a whole. One of these changes is that Volunteers placed outside of Kampala may not travel to Kampala without an official reason and without prior approval from their program manager or Peace Corps medical officer. In late 2007, Uganda was considered free from rebel activities and the Peace Corps has Volunteer placements in the north and northwestern region, however the Karamoja (northeastern) region is a restricted travel area due to cattle rustling and the potential concomitant violence toward any outsiders. Kampala can also be an epicenter for political uprisings, as was the case in September 2009 when riots began after President Museveni restricted the Buganda Kabaka’s (traditional king) travel to an area which was supposedly under his rule. Buganda, angry with the president’s assertion of authority over their king, began rioting in Kampala and the center of other towns. Tires were set ablaze in the streets, property was destroyed, and many people were injured or killed as police shifted from firing warning shots into the air to shooting into crowds to disperse mobs.
Violence may erupt quickly and with little warning, so Kampala should be avoided during known political demonstrations that could involve conflict. Another recent development is the presence of Somali terrorist cells within Uganda. Al Shabab took credit for the twin bombings of World Cup spectators near Kampala in July 2010, which killed approximately 80 people, including an American missionary. While terrorism remains a threat in Uganda, there have been no incidents of violence since then. You will receive clear information about how the Peace Corps is addressing the issues of safety and security and how you can participate. While whistles and verbal harassment based on race or gender may be fairly common on the street, this behavior may be reduced if you abide by local cultural norms, dress conservatively, and respond according to the training you will receive.