Last week I posted a comment about how many uncertainties that new Peace Corps volunteers have upon accepting their invitation to serve. Most of us have only a vague understanding of our living conditions or what we will be doing.
This email from Pam Kingpetcharat, the person who will be training me in Guyana, helps clear up some of the confusion. Her email was responding to Russ Starck questions. Russ is another volunteer who will be arriving with me this June.
Russ asked some questions..the replies to which I thought might interest you.
1. How do volunteers get selected for the various assignments in the program?
It’s a matching process using (A) a series of 3 interviews with the APCD of Programming and (B) evaluation of your adaptability in the PST done by the training staff.
(A) Terrence Wilson, APCD of Programming takes all the information you sent into the Country Desk regarding your skills, etc. and compares them to the skills required by the different available (Information Technology) sites. During training, he will meet with you over a series of 3 interviews to talk about what you feel your strengths and weaknesses are and what kind of living conditions you think you can handle. Peace Corps doesn’t want people to leave and so attempts to give them no more than they think they can handle. At the same time, you ARE a volunteer so technically, you’ve signed up to be used in whatever way the country – Guyana – deems it NEEDs. Terrence attempts to balance these two but he’s also bound by the need to make sure that the politics (US/Guyana relations) remain intact and amicable. After all, we aren’t a development organization per say…we’re the PEACE Corps.
(B) In addition, throughout the PST – Pre-service Training (10 weeks in-country) they monitor how you’re adapting to the climate, culture, etc. They also assess how well you intake information, how patient you are, how you listen or don’t listen in training, and how you interact not only with the other trainees but also with the in-country staff all of whom are Guyanese. These are all very important because they want to see how much ‘stress’ you can handle AND whether or not you are a risk to yourself and to the Peace Corps Guyana mission. Towards the end of training, each of the trainers actually turns in a written assessment of each of the remaining volunteers.
2. Additionally, I was curious about housing. The initial country description made it sound as if housing was hard to come by. I would prefer to live in my own apartment if possible. Is that the norm or do most volunteers live with a host family. From the pictures you sent links to (which were great!!) it appears as though volunteers had there own apartments?
I am reluctant to say very much about housing because I don’t want you to perceive anything I say as written in stone (that’s my disclaimer). The truth is that housing IS DEFINITELY hard to come by. Due to the economic situation, most Guyanese live with their extended families (3 generations under one roof) and so one and two bedroom apartments, houses, etc. are VERY VERY hard to come by. When you do come upon them, there is no guarantee that we can afford them on the PC housing stipend. For example, Libby who is a teacher in South Rumivelt (a neighborhood of Georgetown) lived with a host family until 2 months ago when she finally found her own place. There are definite benefits to this because you can ‘scope out’ a place and get to know the neighborhood before moving in.
However, most all other volunteers found housing within a month to 2 months of having sworn into service. Peace Corps helps out and requires a series of security approvals before any volunteer moves into their dwelling BECAUSE there has been a history of break-ins, assaults, etc. Since Peace Corps is footing the housing bill, they can approve or not approve any Peace Corps Volunteer housing.
Having said that, this issue is VERY site specific. ALL current Peace Corps Volunteers either share a house with another volunteer, live in apartments attached to a family dwelling, or on a compound because most current Peace Corps Volunteers are in towns where housing is more available (compared to Amerindian villages or rural villages). These are the rules and again, they are there for safety reasons. Personally, I live in a 4 unit, 1 bedroom apartment. I have neighbors on all sides and I feel VERY safe because of it. Like you, I didn’t really want to share with anyone or live with a family so everything turned out ok for me.
The only problem with all of this is that there is a new Country Director who is scheduled to arrive today. I’m not sure if he’ll change any of these rules so your group will just have to wait and see.
NOTE: During the 10 week in country training program (while you’re still not a volunteer but a trainee) you WILL be staying with a host family. I recommend bringing a gift to give them…full sized cotton bed sheets [a must for yourself…because they don’t exist here and if they do, they aren’t affordable], chocolates, picture frames, any sort of American type housewares.
In fact, the Peace Corps Volunteer rumor mill says that your group Guy-10 will be the largest incoming training group in the short history of the Peace Corps Guyana program. We haven’t been around for many years (maybe 6-7 years) and so what each Peace Corps Volunteer does has a tremendous impact on building the Peace Corps Guyana program. That’s good and bad. You’ll notice a lot of these things for yourself when you come. Hope all my verboseness has been helpful. Do you venture to ask me any more questions or have your eyes been assaulted enough?