Vanuatu

Living Conditions

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 reminder 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

During pre-service training (PST) you will live with host families. Living with host families is part of Peace Corps' strategy to assist you in fully integrating into the social setting and life of Vanuatu. As a member of the community, surrounded by other people, it will be a challenge to have your own privacy since members of your family will often be around. Your host families will provide opportunities to build other supportive relationships at your site, enabling you to participate in community activities. Social activities usually revolve around a lafet (party), which is a time of eating and dancing, perhaps due to a wedding, family gathering, or commonly for church functions or fundraising initiatives. Other social activities can include the drinking of kava at a local bar or nakamal. Drinking kava is a common social activity throughout the islands and is enjoyed by both local and expatriate residents. On most islands, kava can be drunk by both men and women; however, there will be other islands or communities that forbid women to drink kava. For the most part, it is a great way of meeting people or having a good storian (chat) about current events.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

You are expected to show sensitivity to the culture of Vanuatu in both dress and behavior. A foreigner who wears ragged clothing is likely to be considered an affront. Most Ni-Vanuatu are conservative in their dress, yet casual. Volunteers who are assigned to classrooms, offices, or health posts have a greater need for professional clothing than those who spend most of their time in the field. Professional in Vanuatu does not mean dress suits. Dress is casual, but in more formal or professional settings it may require long trousers and skirts. Although attitudes about women’s dress are more liberal in Port Vila and Luganville, female Volunteers should dress modestly. Wearing loose fitting tops with skirts is local fashion, so it is worth bringing such blouses with you. It is never appropriate for women to show bare thighs (except at tourist pools and tourist beaches), and short-shorts for women are considered improper. When swimming in non-resort areas, women should wrap a lava-lava (a sarong-like wrap) around their waist. Many female Volunteers find it is most acceptable in rural areas to wear a “Mother Hubbard”—a dress that is sold locally and may be given to you by your per-service training host family.