How long do you serve in PC?
I 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.
Detailed account of life as a volunteer: Peace Corps Blog
Packing List: PC Life within a Suitcase
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.
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.
*New revisions to the application process 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*
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.
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?
Prior to actually starting work, there was a number of things I thought I could be doing; working an 8-5 job Mon-Fri, developing an NGO, building business, finding entrepreneurs, and so much more. As a PCV I really had no desire to be strapped down to another “job,” and although a business major, it really isn’t my passion, I am just good at it. Thankfully, 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 since it is just starting and aid in the 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), and have the flexibility to even work from home.
When do you find out about your 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. Take deep breathes it will be over before you know it.
Volunteers live with host families in the communities and begin the integration process to become a volunteer. This is PST, at the end 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 some fun lessons catered to our post. They give you all the tools you need to function including providing cell phones, bank accounts, and practical skills. Structured training occurs from Mon-Fri between 8am-4pm, but your entire experience at PST is a practical training time before your service begins.
Are you suppose to know the language before leaving?
It is not required and for more complicated languages, like Kiswahili, I recommend waiting until you get to country. Simply because the language trainers do an amazing job teaching you everything you need to know to score an Intermediate Low or higher on the LPI. The LPI (language proficiency interview) is a conversation styled exam that determines your level of language proficiency. 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 exactly 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.
How do you live?
Like a local! I live in a mud house with electricity. It is quaint and cozy, in my opinion, with all the comforts of home. 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?
Beautiful. Exotic. The next big thing.
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 is changing. But 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? 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 aren’t in America anymore.
Isn’t Kenya dangerous?
Recent terrorist activity and political unrest have been common in international news within the last few years. So, yes.
Kenya has dangers from the mild to the extreme. You have to be more cautious and vigilant, especially in major cities, political and tribal violence is something to be aware of, and traveling has its own set of risks.
But safety is a NUMBER ONE priority for volunteers operating in ANY country. This is especially true here and our staff make sure there are rules being followed and certain policies put in place. There are restricted areas we cannot travel to or transit through, no one is assigned to restricted areas, our post headquarters is currently in the process of relocating to better serve volunteers, and we have 24/7 support for any emergency or concern. I feel very safe in my town and due to training feel as safe as I can be when traveling, as well as aware of all the precautions to take. Kenya is dangerous, but I feel safe being a volunteer here.
Life after PC as an RPCV?
I returned to America on July 22, 2014 and my personal transition back to the usual routine of life has been an enlightening transition. Everyone returns from PC changed in some way. These changes can be subtle to dramatic. Be prepared for questions, praise, and the feeling of inadequacy.
Why the last one? You have just live overseas in a village, where modern amenities rarely if ever exist, life is harder, and people are different. You go from existing as a pseudo-celebrity and being on top of the world, ready for any challenge, able to tackle any task, and being a force of sheer awesome, back to..normal.
So I do not say inadequacy in a negative sense, but compared to what you accomplished and how life was, but how life will now be. Returning is a bombardment of chaos that is normal, but can be overwhelming. Having to find a job to make money, where will you live, how will you get around, what to eat, how to deal with the differences of a complex modern world, how to relate to people now, how do you go from being a rock star to being just like everyone else? It is a process and the best advice I have is find your personal support system and power through it.
In fact, for the first month don’t do anything. Seriously. Taking you time to adjust is the best way to return from PC. Decide what you want to do with your life, make a plan of action, and don’t forget that what you did was AMAZING. There aren’t many people that do it or could do it and you did it. Secondly, life is different, it’s competitive and there will always be people that are better than you in certain aspects, but you have to hold onto what makes you stand out and let people know about it. These small differences allow to continue being a rock-star after PC in whatever you do. If you don’t think so, you can always join PC response or do another 2 year service. Life after PC : you can do anything.
I feel incredibly blessed to be given the opportunity to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer 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.
Thinking of applying? Go to www.peacecorps.gov for more information!