Blog: Peace Corps Kenya Blog
Packing Lists: PC Life Within a Suitcase
I feel incredibly blessed to be given the opportunity to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya and will humbly serve and emulate the 10 core expectation of a volunteer.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship, as of June 2013, I journey with the Peace Corps to support that mission.
How long do you serve?
I applied March 2012 and interviewed in May 2012. My legal and medical kits were issued in the fall of 2012. I finally got my official invitation January 18, 2013 to serve as a Community Economic Development (CED) Volunteer in Kenya, Africa for 27 months. I departed from the U.S. on June 3, 2013, swore in as an official PCV on August 15, 2013 and will return August 15, 2015.
Update: I returned July 2014 after the program in Kenya was suspended.
Did you pick Kenya?
Yes and no. When you apply to PC there is a section asking if there are any regions you would prefer or not prefer to volunteer. If it is important for you to work in a particular sector or region, be aware your application could take a lot longer to process and your choices may be very limited. This is because every post has different sectors they operate and may not have the one you want, additionally, posts open and close depending on a number of factors, and if you are intent on going to a certain place that is not currently accepting volunteers it could be a long wait.
However, when you finish your application process and they send your official invitation, you have the option to turn it down if you do not want it, BUT it could take much longer to get you re-assigned. When I received my invitation for Kenya, it wasn’t my first choice, but I was so excited to become a volunteer I went for it.
New revisions to the application process (and PC Response) make applying faster than ever! Additionally, you have the power to decide where you want to go and what you would like to do. This new process helps to better cater to the needs of volunteers and ensure the best experience for everyone.
What is a Community Economic Development (CED) Volunteer?
Officially : Business Volunteers work to build local capacity and improve economic opportunities in communities. They participate at many levels, whether helping artisan cooperatives to market their handmade goods, training entrepreneurs in basic small business skills development, or working with micro-finance institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or municipalities to support local economic development projects
What will you be doing?
We have amazing APCD’s, or program managers, who work to find assignments suited for us individually.
I was lucky to be paired with an NGO that needed a business volunteer, but works in areas of food security and nutrition. Dream placement!! I help develop the business side of the NGO and development of a comprehensive nutrition and food security program focused with youth. I make my own schedule and create my own projects, including side-projects (which can be anything).
When do you find out about your in-country assignment?
In the middle of training, after shadowing a current PCV.
Why do you have to wait to find out?
APCDs work very hard on site development, but volunteers have to practice what they preach. So during training you are monitored and evaluated as a volunteer to determine what you need in order to have a successful and productive service. Interviews are conducted to find out more about why you want to be a volunteer and to assess your skill sets, as well as determine your parameter of means. This includes the living conditions you are willing to actually live in and your general comfort level, and want of accessibility, like actually having to walk 10km to get to town. However, this is only to determine the BEST fit for you and not all your needs and wants are going to be met.
Core Expectation #3: Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.
What is training like?
Training is like fast-track summer program in college for 11 weeks and is exhausting and can be overwhelming.
During PST, volunteers live with host families in the communities. At the end of training you officially swear-in as a PCV. The primary focus during training is intense language immersion and cultural conditioning. Other topics covered include sector specific training, healthy and safety, PC policies, and diversity. Be prepared for weeks of PowerPoint slides.
But it isn’t all serious. We get to have volunteer lead training, field trips and fun lessons catered to our post. They provide all the tools you need including cell phones, bank accounts and of course practical skills. Structured training occurs from Mon-Fri between 8am-4pm, but your entire experience at PST is practical training before your service begins.
Are you suppose to know the language before leaving?
Not for most countries. The language trainers do an amazing job teaching you everything you need to know to score a passing score on the LPI. The LPI (language proficiency interview) is a conversation styled exam that determines your level of language proficiency after PST. You will be well-equipped to handle the exam and only need a score of intermediate-low to pass, my entire group passed on the first day. It is possible, don’t panic.
Do you get to travel?
Of course!! We accrue vacation time, get personal business days, and are encouraged to help other volunteers with projects. Additionally, there are PC events and functions that occur throughout the year.
Where will you live?
There are many areas restricted in Kenya, but I will be living in the Nyanza region close to border with Uganda and near Lake Victoria.
What if you don’t like it?
That is the great thing about being a PCV. You didn’t sign your life away, you can choose to end your service any time. Also, your APCD will help with any issues that occur at your site and work with you to ensure you are a happy volunteer.
What’s life like?
Living like a local! I live in a mud house fortunately with electricity. I use a gas cooker instead of a traditional jiko and get my water from a tank that uses a rain catchment. I sanitize all my water by hand and own no fancy electronic appliances. The benefit of having electricity is being able to power all my electronics and I have the added luxury of decent WIFI. My bathroom is a compost toilet system and I take bucket bathes, usually cold, but I can heat water if necessary. Laundry is done by hand, but I hire a local mama to do it, since I can admit when I absolutely cannot do something.
My local town has nearly everything I could want or need, and if I can’t get it then I just take a short matatu ride to the city, which does have everything I could want or need. Simply put, it isn’t desolate or lacking anything that would make it impossible to live. It is merely living at the most basic of means but meeting all your needs. You’d be surprised what you can do without.
What is Kenya like?
It’s beautiful and exotic and considered a developing (not third world) country. Kenya is undergoing rapid development and expansion. Major cities boast a very Western style with Kenyan flare, but you can find Western influence everywhere (notice the Coke ads). Small towns, like mine, are experiencing major new developments and rural villages are beginning to gain better access to outside resources.
The cultural roots in Kenya are still very much with the people, but the landscape and infrastructure is changing. Overall, when you are in Kenya you can experience everything from Subway in Nairobi to the local hoteli in the village with traditional cuisine. The mix of Kenya and Western influence is everywhere. But just take a step outside and look at the scenery, you can’t take a drive in America and see wild herds of zebra, giraffe, or impala just grazing on the side of the rode, can you?
Isn’t Kenya dangerous?
As of July 22, 2014, PC Kenya program was temporarily suspended. All volunteers were evacuated from the country due to concerns for our safety involving high-risk security threats in the country. This can happen anywhere and for anything. PC goes through many measures both at post and headquarters to assess situations and best determine a course of action. Removing volunteers is the last thing anyone wants, however, sometimes the risks are not worth endangering the volunteers. This does not mean Kenya will no longer host volunteers and the hope is to reopen the program as soon as possible.
Thinking of applying? Go to www.peacecorps.gov for more information!