Hi my name is Amanda and I just was nominated for HIV/AIDS education in Africa.I submitted my application on January 22nd, had an interview the next week and now I am working on my health packet. I graduated from the University of Arizona with a BA in Anthropology and French, wherein lies my interest in going to Africa. I currently volunteer with an HIV/AIDS organization and am attempting to get more involved with education and community outreach.I couldn't be more excited about my nomination, however my family and friends (who initially knew very little about the PC and have not known a previous volunteer) are SERIOUSLY concerned about my health and safety. I told them that you have to have common sense when it comes to traveling to a developing country but I also know that PC provides you with safety and cultural training to avoid potentially dangerous situations.I guess what I am asking is should I be legitimately terrified about doing PC because I am a young Caucasian woman? I am fairly small (5'7", 120lbs) and am not sure if I would be capable of really defending myself in a dangerous situation. My family's concerns coupled with the stories I have read about attempted rapes/assaults and even the murder of Kate Puzey (http://www.coopercrier.com/local/local_story_078082546.html) have all started to intimidate me and have me really question my readiness and willingness to put myself in danger...I was wondering-Is it a legitimate concern to be afraid of something seriously dangerous happening, especially if assigned to a country in Africa?-Do any RPCV have any stories about near assault/dangerous situations that came about during your 2 years of service?-How safe do you feel as a PCV in your community, especially as a woman? -Any advice???Thank you!
Statistically speaking, there are more Caucasian women in PC than any other demographic. Situations like the one that you cited do occur, but they are extremely rare. There are nearly 200,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, but there have only been a handful of deaths that were the result of violence (of course, there have also been a deaths caused by accidents, medical issues, etc.). Each is a tragedy, but they are the exception, rather than the rule. I serve in Latin America, but I'm not sure that the type of interpersonal violence that you're talking about is more common in Africa than in any other part of the world. PC publishes an annual incident report, divided by type of crime, by region and by country. It's somewhere on the website. When I get to the office later today, I can't try to find it.I always felt 100% safe in my community. I would sometimes leave my house at 4 in the morning to catch a bus, and not think anything of it. Now that I've extended my service and am working out of the PC office, I am living in an urban area... of course, there is a higher incidence of crimes, and I need to take more precautions. But using those precautions (not walking around by myself late at night, taking taxis when necessary, not carrying too many belongings when traveling, etc.), I always feel reasonably safe.As you said, PC will give you extensive training in cultural issues, as well as safety and medical. They will, of course, also ask you to engage your common sense and your personal responsibility to ensure your safety.
Do you have any source for your claim that Puzey was "supposedly murdered by 3 PC staff"?
My very brief and not particularly fact-checking search found that it was a man from Benin who did it.
I don't have any stories personally of near assault or seriously dangerous situations from being in country, but I do have them from life in America. Are your family and friends concerned about your health and safety living there? Seriously, though, I had no problems with safety in my service in Turkmenistan. I actually felt safer there than I feel in general at home. I will say that I do know volunteers who encountered trouble, so you get the whole picture, but I also had friends in America who did so during the same period. My point is, there are dangerous places and dangerous situations everywhere. There will probably be some places you shouldn't go and things you shouldn't do, but there are always things like that and it shouldn't be the deciding factor in whether you join the Peace Corps.
I completely agree-thank you so much.
what iamwearingpants said. I served in Mali, a french-speaking west african country, and never had any problem. A friend of mine was robbed in the city, but cities always have rougher characters than the country. PC's training and your own integration into your community will help you avoid the traps tourists fall into, and common sense will save you in many other situations. They say that the times of greatest crimes against PCVs are right at the beginning, before they have a chance to get the language and cultural skills to guard themselves, and right at the end, when they get overconfident and forget to guard themselves. As far as being "legitimately terrified" I'd say never. Just don't put yourself into unsafe situations, and realize that nowhere can you account for all human behavior. If you're still nervous, take some self-defense classes before you go. I'm also a small young woman, and some people tried to make me afraid before I left too. A PCV had been murdered the year before in Indonesia and they all pointed to it as proof all undeveloped countries are unsafe. Of course, when I later traveled to Paris my dad showed me "Taken" and said it's unsafe there. You'll find some danger anywhere you go, but you can't blame the crate for carrying one or two bad apples (and neither should you stop eating apples).Good luck, and enjoy Africa! I know I'm biased, but I think it might just be the best continent in all the world
My dad showed me "taken" before I left for Paris too! That movie was terrifying but I definitely didn't have anything scary happen while I was there... thank you so much, your post makes me feel very optimistic and somewhat silly for letting people get to me so much.
I am 5 feet tall caucasian woman and I lived in Namibia. I felt safer in my town then I do most other places. I took the time to truly integrate into my community and THAT is what made me feel safe where I lived. I walked the streets at night (not that i advise that) and everyone knew me so no one would bother me. If I went out at night to a bar I always knew people there and if someone was bothering me I didn't even have to ask another person to help they just naturally protected me. The one big thing I think about when it comes to violence between US and Namibia (I won't generalize for all of Africa) was that people didn't carry guns around like they do here. In my town I only recall one person dying from a fight in two years....never from a gun.....take an area of 5000 people here in tucson and I promise you the numbers of deaths from violence will mostly be from guns and more then one person in two years died. With that being said you have to be smart. Don't walk around flaunting your phone or computer or ipod. Don't flash money and don't go to an ATM alone. For the most part common sense will take you a long way.Some volunteers were robbed (mostly in big cities).... I learned not to carry a backpack in training when someone was able to search thru the pockets of mine while it was still on my back ( I had nothing in the pockets at the time)....I also had someone try to steel my purse while at a restaurant in the capital but I had the strap wrapped around my leg and so they didn't get very far. My family was worried before I left but they came over to see me about 7 months into my service and they knew I was in good hands. I wouldn't trade the experience I had in Namibia for fear of what could be and you shouldn't either!
I don't get, if you're looking for a real understanding of how safe it is, you're only asking about dangers. That said, there were some violent crime in Malawi, where I was, but only one of them was gender specific. Also, more people were hurt in car accidents than any other kind of event. Africa is risky, sure. But most people back home are way more scared of it than they should be, which is why, if you go, you will be hearing about how "brave" you are and the like until your ears bleed. And you probably won't get why anybody thinks that. That said, some people get really worried about all the bad things that are going to happen to them. And in PC you have a lot of alone time to think about it all. I think out of the PCVs I knew who were really scared going in, about half got over it and half early terminated.
So, one year after Puzey was murdered, are there suspects? If so, who are they? Are they African employees of the Peace Corps, as one blog has said they are? Of course, blogs, such as this one, are not a great source for factual information, so anything posted hear should not be read as necessarily accurate.
google "Peace Corps Crime Statistics" or check out this link http://multimedia.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/policies/volsafety2008.pdfremember that the actual statistics are always greater