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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 Vanuatu

Communications

Mail

During training, family and friends can send mail to you at the Peace Corps office. The address is: 

“Your Name"
Peace Corps Vanuatu
PMB 9097
Port Vila
Republic of Vanuatu

Although you can collect your mail from the office, the Peace Corps staff usually brings it to the training site. The length of time for mail sent from the United States varies, but small envelopes and parcels generally arrive in Port Vila in two or three weeks.

Telephones

Cellphones have hit Vanuatu, and rural coverage is now at over 85 percent. However, the quality of the service varies greatly from place to place, and some Volunteers may still be an hour’s walk from mobile service. In remote locations, Volunteers also have a Peace Corps-issued satellite phone as backup communication.

Internet

There are a few Internet cafes in the Port Vila area. You can also access email and the Internet at the Peace Corps office’s resource center, which has four computers for use by trainees and Volunteers, as well as wireless for personal computers.  A few of our Volunteers based in semi-rural communities will have some Internet connectivity, but most Volunteers will have no connection.

Housing and site location

For the first few days of pre-service training (PST), you will stay near the capital of Port Vila. You will then move to a rural village on Efaté, staying with a Ni-Vanuatu family for the remainder of training. Although some homes in the village use solar power or generators for electricity, you are more likely to use a little solar lamp or candles. At the training site and in most rural villages, households have a rainwater tank, well, or piped water for drinking and showers. Most houses are composed of local materials, including wood, bamboo, palm and coconut leaves, and tin sheets.

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

Vanuatu has an abundance of fruits, root crops, and vegetables. Most island families grow food in their gardens, and food shortages are rare. There are a few markets and numerous stores on the main islands of Santo and Efaté that carry canned goods, meats, spices, fresh vegetables, cheese, cereal, milk, rice, pasta, and chocolate. On other islands, there are fewer stores and markets and few refrigerated products, but you usually can obtain the essentials. While many of Vanuatu’s foods, such as taros, yams, and breadfruit, will be familiar, you are likely to rapidly develop a taste for virtually all of them. Papayas, pineapples, bananas, plantains, and sweet potatoes are abundant during much of the year. Coconut milk and cream are used to flavor many dishes, and you will soon appreciate them as much as the Ni-Vanuatu do. Most food is cooked using hot stones or through boiling and steaming; very little food is fried. During PST, you will become familiar with Vanuatu’s traditional island food (fish, taro, yams, etc.), or aelan kakae, by eating it with your host family. You will eventually develop your favorite dishes and learn how to cook some of them, albeit in your own style.

Transportation

In Vanuatu, you will probably do more walking, riding in the back of pickup trucks, flying in small planes, and bouncing around in small boats than you have ever done before. The undeveloped road system, with less than 100 miles of paved roads, consists mainly of dirt tracks suitable only for four-wheel-drive vehicles. Most islands have one or two short airstrips where Air Vanuatu’s small planes land at least one a week. In addition, every island has a small port or wharf where small cargo ships and boats regularly dock. After one arrives at these locations, transportation is usually via pickup truck, foot, or small boat. Port Vila and Luganville have numerous taxis and mass-transit vans that provide good service at a reasonable cost. Peace Corps Volunteers are prohibited from driving or riding on motorcycles.

Social activities

  • Vanuatu has a strongly collectivist culture, where kinship, family, and community are extremely important.  Vanuatu communities are therefore very tight-knit groups and some Volunteers may be challenged to maintain their own privacy as their community members take care to ensure they are not ‘alone’.
  • All Volunteers will be assigned a host family in their communities, who will offer the opportunity to take part in their daily activities including cooking, fishing, gardening, and going to church.
  • In the late afternoons, men may play sports (soccer, volleyball, pétanque) and enjoy a shell or two of kava while chatting about current events and sharing a laugh.
  • While women generally have fewer social gatherings outside the home, women Volunteers will form strong bonds with other women in their communities who will include them in culturally appropriate ways to socialize.
  • Special social events involving food and music are often held for church functions, fundraising activities, and weddings.
  • Communities also put on big celebrations for national holidays such Vanuatu Independence Day, involving market stalls selling homemade treats, sports competitions, and local string band music.

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 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.

In Vanuatu, clothing styles are casual yet conservative. In professional settings, clothes include short-sleeved shirts or blouses, lightweight pants, and loose-fitting calf-length skirts or dresses. Women and Volunteers who present as women must dress modestly at all times; form-fitting clothes or clothes that expose the midriff and upper legs are never appropriate. When swimming in non-tourist areas, women Volunteers wear a tank top with board shorts or wrap a lava-lava (sarong) around their waist.  Many women Volunteers wear the traditional Vanuatu ‘island dress’ – at least one of which will likely be gifted to you by your host family!

Generally speaking, tattoos and piercings are acceptable, however they will generate lots of curiosity and questions from community members.  Some Volunteers choose to remove or cover their piercings/tattoos at the beginning of service to aide in community integration.