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A P E A C E C O R P S P U B L I C ATI O N FOR NEW VOLUNTEERS
WELCOME TO ARMENIA
Dear Peace Corps Invitee, On behalf of the Peace Corps/Armenia staff, I would like to congratulate you on your invitation to serve in Armenia. We are very eager to have you as part of our development team. We know you must be very busy right now, preparing for your departure and saying your goodbyes. However, it is very important to set aside some uninterrupted time to carefully read this Welcome Book. The information contained in this book has been carefully assembled and updated by Peace Corps/Armenia staff and Volunteers. It is the freshest and most accurate information about Volunteer service and living conditions in Armenia. Armenia is a fascinating country that is full of contrasts. It is a young country, having gained independence shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Yet it is also an ancient society that can be traced back to centuries B.C. While urban Armenians are modern Europeans in every sense, many rural Armenians have returned to subsistence farming and a more traditional life. Armenians are very proud of their new nation and of their heritage, yet many emigrate because of the lack of paid employment in the country. Although Armenians have embraced democracy, free markets, and business, many, especially older Armenians, long for the old Soviet days when things were more stable and their livelihood was guaranteed. Armenian organizations, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers have identified a great need to work with rural Armenian schools and in health, environmental, and business education. There is also great interest in Armenia in the application of information technologies. Volunteers are working with a nationwide project that connects schools and communities to the Internet.
The Peace Corps/Armenia staff is hard at work to ensure that your assignment will be rewarding, your physical health trouble-free, and your housing adequate. There are variables, however, that are simply beyond anyone’s control. To be successful, you will have to use your reserves of patience and perseverance. You will be tested time and again by your hosts to ascertain your level of knowledge and competence. Some Armenians may question your commitment and be perplexed by why you are willing to give up a very comfortable life in America for such challenging surroundings. They will also be pleasantly surprised when they hear their native language coming from your lips! During pre-service training, your host family will test your cross-cultural sensitivity to its limit. But by and large, you will look back at this experience in wonderment and remember the hospitable and beautiful people and their rich cultural heritage, the food, the music, and the dancing—all of these aspects of working and living in Armenia will give you a new appreciation for life. The Peace Corps/Armenia staff and currently serving Volunteers are outstanding in their dedication and commitment. We are all eager to help you become part of the Peace Corps/Armenia team and look forward to seeing you soon! Patrick Hart Country Director
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Map of Armenia A Welcome Letter Peace Corps/Armenia History and Programs History of the Peace Corps in Armenia History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Armenia Country Overview: Armenia at a Glance History Government Economy People and Culture Environment Resources for Further Information Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle Communications Housing and Site Location Living Allowance and Money Management Food and Diet Transportation Geography and Climate Social Activities Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior Rewards and Frustrations 1 7 7 8-9 11 11-13 13 13-15 15-16 16 19 25 25-27 27 27-29 29-30 30 30 31 31-33 33
Peace Corps Training Overview of Pre-Service Training
Technical Training Language Training Cross-Cultural Training Health Training Safety Training
35 35 36 36 37 37 37-38 38 41 41 41-42 42-43 43-44 44-45 45-46 47-53 47-48 48-49 49-53 53-55 55-56 56-57 59 60 60 60-61 61-62 62 62-63 63 63-64
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service Your Health Care and Safety in Armenia Health Issues in Armenia Helping You Stay Healthy Maintaining Your Health Women’s Health Information Your Peace Corps Medical Kit Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk Support from Staff
Security Issues in Armenia Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Armenia Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues Overview of Diversity in Armenia What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
Frequently Asked Questions Welcome Letters From Armenia Volunteers Packing List Pre-departure Checklist Contacting Peace Corps Headquarters
67 73 81 87 91
PEACE CORPS/ARMENIA HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Armenia
The Peace Corps program in Armenia began in 1992. Since then, more than 500 Volunteers have served in Armenia. During the first years, conditions were very difficult, with no electricity or heat. The country was reeling from the aftermath of the devastating 1988 earthquake, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and a war with Azerbaijan over NagornoKarabakh, an Armenian enclave. Today, conditions have significantly improved. There is electricity throughout the country. Yerevan, the capital, is an increasingly modern city with a European atmosphere. More restaurants, cafes, jazz clubs, and Internet cafés have opened in and around the city; and new hotels and restaurants are being built near Lake Sevan, Gyumri, and other regional cities. Still, rural poverty is pervasive, and the loss of hope among some Armenians forces many to emigrate to other countries. After years of Soviet rule, Peace Corps Volunteers were the first Americans many Armenians had ever met. Living with the people in their communities, Volunteers have brought hope of a better future, and many have formed lifelong friendships with Armenian counterparts, friends, and neighbors. There are now approximately 85 Volunteers serving in villages and towns throughout the country. Peace Corps is well-established in Armenia and has a strong reputation for effective grass-roots development work.
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History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Armenia
Peace Corps/Armenia has four projects: teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), community and business development (CBD), environmental education, and community health education (CHE). Our objective is not to teach Armenians “American” values, but to help them help themselves within their own cultural framework. Volunteers in the TEFL project have been teaching English at village and town secondary schools, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning since 1992. In 1999, a teachertraining component was added. Teacher-trainer Volunteers also work at teacher-training institutes and methodology centers. CBD Volunteers work with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), educational institutions, and business support centers to build capacity for effective participation in the emerging market economy. Almost all Volunteers in this project support at least one local NGO in capacity-building. They also help implement projects in environmental protection, youth development, education, career development, women in development, and computer and English training. Several Volunteers are carrying out small-scale projects in community development, such as Boys Reaching Out (BRO) camps, sports tournaments for students, and tourism development. The CHE project aims to increase preventive health measures at the community level and raise awareness of public health issues. Volunteers in this project are placed in clinics, educational institutions (e.g., schools and medical colleges), and health NGOs. They work with partners to teach health classes, conduct health workshops, develop grant proposals for health improvement projects, conduct informal health
education sessions with community residents, organize environmental health awareness hikes and camps, develop health curriculum guides and materials, and translate and adapt health education materials for the Armenian context. Community health education Volunteers encourage people to understand the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle and to make good health a priority. Peace Corps/Armenia started the environmental education project in 2003. Volunteer work includes capacity-building for environment-related NGOs; working with conservation areas and reservations to develop strategies to minimize the impact of human traffic and assisting with wildlife management through data collection and monitoring; ecotourism (e.g., merging ecological concerns with tourism to develop programs with a low impact on the environment); and incorporating environmental education topics into the English and health curriculum and into regular teaching assignments. In addition to project-specific activities, Volunteers collaborate with each other and community members in other sectors. Volunteers integrate cross-sector initiatives such as HIV/AIDS awareness, gender and development, information technology, youth development, and civic education into their activities. They work to increase understanding of gender roles and to encourage the active participation of both men and women in their communities. Volunteers help Armenian communities gain access to, and make effective use of, information technologies and reach out to empower Armenian girls and boys through education, community involvement, and exposure to new ideas and approaches to proactively manage their quality of life.
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COUNTRY OVERVIEW: ARMENIA AT A GLANCE
Although repeatedly invaded, conquered, and ruled by others, Armenia has preserved its national and cultural identity for more than 2,600 years. Armenians take great pride in the fact that for a few generations during the time of Pompeii and Julius Caesar, Armenia was powerful enough to challenge the Roman Empire. Its subsequent history was marked by many struggles for independence and by the domination of many foreign powers. The foundations of Armenian civilization were laid in the sixth century B.C. on the ruins of the ancient kingdom of Urartu. In about 550 B.C., the area became a province of Persia’s Achaemenian Empire. In 331 B.C., Armenia was overrun by Alexander the Great, and in 301 B.C., it became part of the Seleucid Empire. With Rome’s conquest of the Seleucids in 190–189 B.C., Armenia was divided into two provinces: Greater Armenia and Sophene. The nation was reunified by King Tigranes II (95–55 B.C.) and reached the height of its power, extending its dominion to the neighboring regions of Albania and Atropatene (both now in Azerbaijan), Syria, and part of Parthia. In 66 B.C., however, Tigranes was forced to cede territory and form an alliance with Rome. Armenia subsequently became the focus of Roman and ParthianPersian rivalry that lasted until the third century A.D. By converting the Arsacid King Tiridates III, the ruler of Parthia, to Christianity, St. Gregory the Illuminator brought
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about Armenia’s permanent break from Persia and the East. Christianity became the official religion of the Armenian state in 300 A.D. In about 390 A.D., the country was divided into Byzantine Armenia and Persian Armenia. The annexation of Armenia by the briefly revived Byzantine Empire in the 11th century was followed by invasions of the Seljuk Turks, who brought the country under Turkish domination in the last quarter of the 11th century. In the 13th century, Armenia, much of which was at that time part of Georgia, was overrun by the Mongols. Beginning in the 16th century, Armenia was once more the object of contention between two hostile powers, the Ottoman Empire and Iran. This situation continued—with a brief interlude of Armenian independence from 1722 to 1730—through the 18th century. During this time, the country became a trade link between the East and Europe. The advance of Russia into the Caucasus early in the 19th century inspired a renewal of Armenian culture. Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 and the Treaty of San Stefano, the issue grew into the “Armenian question.” But attempts to effect reforms resulted only in a series of Turkish and Russian massacres of the Armenian populace. Following their conquest by Russia in 1916, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan formed the Transcaucasian alliance, but within a few months the alliance was dissolved. A series of political upheavals, including the brief appearance of an independent Armenian republic in 1920, eventually led to the reunion of the three states as the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, which was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922. In 1936, the new Soviet Constitution gave Armenia the status of a republic of the USSR.
In 1988, a massive earthquake leveled the northern cities of Leninakan (now Gyumri) and Spitak, killing about 25,000 people and making tens of thousands homeless. Armenia became independent from the collapsing Soviet Union on September 21, 1991. In the years that followed, Armenia fought neighboring Azerbaijan for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region that was governed by Azerbaijan even though a majority of the region’s population was Armenian. A cease-fire agreement was reached between the two countries in 1994. In the past few years, the “Minsk Group,” which includes France, United States, and Russia, has facilitated peace talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The situation remains unresolved.
The Republic of Armenia has an executive branch that includes a president and a prime minister and a legislative branch composed of a National Assembly or Parliament. Members of Parliament are elected for four-year terms. The judicial branch includes a Supreme Court system as well as regional and city courts. Peace Corps/Armenia is currently collaborating with the Ministries of Higher Education and Science, Trade and Economic Development, Health, Nature Protection, and Foreign Affairs.
In 2004 the per capita Gross National Income in Armenia was $1,120 and the purchasing power parity was $4,270. For comparison the per capita Gross National Income in USA was
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$41,400. The Armenian economy is based on the Armenian Dram. One U.S. dollar is equal to approximately 400 drams. The country’s chief crops are grains, vegetables, and fruits. Livestock production includes sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, and cattle. Armenia is rich in precious and semiprecious metals and minerals, but it has no significant oil reserves. Its natural resources include copper, zinc, aluminum, and molybdenum. Progress has been made in harnessing the Hrazdan River for hydroelectric power. A Soviet-era nuclear plant (not of the Chernobyl design) meets all of Armenia’s power requirements, and Armenia exports some electricity to neighboring countries. The major industries are mechanical engineering, mining, chemicals, textiles, and building materials. Current exports include cut gems, jewelry, scrap metal, copper, molybdenum, textiles, cognac, fresh fruits, processed agricultural products, and some machinery. Most of the large factories that supplied the Soviet Union are closed, with little hope for revival. Although the transportation infrastructure in Armenia is adequate, the entire country is currently under a limited blockade (borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed), which disrupts much of the former import-export system. Businesses use alternative routes, and access to consumer goods in the capital is excellent. Several economic sectors show promise as replacements for the former heavy industry in Armenia. Tourism has great potential. Armenia has incredible ancient ruins, fortresses, churches, and monasteries; Neolithic sites; and fascinating places such as the “Armenian Stonehenge.” The country’s performing arts, including a ballet and a symphony, are highly developed. Its cuisine is an eclectic mix of European and
Middle Eastern tastes, and it produces wool carpets, gold jewelry, and other items attractive to tourists. Armenia produces high-quality wines and excellent fruits, including apricots, cherries, apples, and berries. In the past few years, fruit juices, cheeses, and wines have been developed for export markets. While the rate of export remains small, it is increasing as consumers begin to recognize the quality of these products. Information technology is also a potential growth area; since Soviet times the country has been a computer science center.
People and Culture
Census records indicate that there are more than 3 million people in Armenia, but given the high rates of emigration to Russia, Europe, and the United States, the actual population is probably much smaller. The capital city of Yerevan has a population of 1.4 million. The largest cities are Gyumri, Vanadzor, and Abovian. The country’s ethnic composition is 95.9 percent Armenian, 1.7 percent Kurdish (including Yezdis), 1.6 percent Russian, 0.3 percent Ukrainian, 0.2 percent Assyrian, 0.1 percent Greek, and 0.2 percent “other.” Several Armenian enclaves exist in neighboring countries, the most important of which is Nagorno-Karabakh (also referred to as “Artsakh”) in Azerbaijan, whose population is 90 percent Armenian. The official language is Armenian, although many people also speak Russian. The majority of the population is Armenian Apostolic Christian. Armenia has a strong musical tradition. Many children take music lessons or attend music schools. If you have a small, portable musical instrument, we recommend that you bring
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it with you; and if you read piano music, you may have opportunities to practice. Traditional Armenian instruments include the doudouk, a wooden flute; the dehol, a drum held under the arm; the kemancha, a stringed instrument played with a bow; and the zourna, another type of flute. Armenians are extremely hospitable and welcoming to Americans. They are also strong and determined as they struggle to recover from the collapse of the Soviet Union and a dramatic drop in their standard of living, the war with Azerbaijan, and the disastrous 1988 earthquake.
The historical area known as Greater Armenia covers more than 260,000 square kilometers (104,000 square miles). The Republic of Armenia today constitutes only about 10 percent of that area, or 29,800 square kilometers (11,920 square miles). Slightly larger than Maryland, Armenia is the smallest of the former Soviet republics. Despite its small size, Armenia’s highland location at the junction of various biogeographical regions has produced a variety of landscapes: semidesert, steppe, forest, alpine meadow, and highaltitude tundra.
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RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Armenia and to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it. A note of caution: As you surf the Internet, be aware that you may find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to express opinions about the Peace Corps based on their own experiences, including comments by those who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. These opinions are not those of the Peace Corps or of the U.S. government, and we hope you will keep in mind that no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About Armenia
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Yerevan to information about how to convert from the dollar to the dram. Just click on Armenia and go from there.
Visit this site to learn all you need to know about any country in the world.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Armenia and learn more about its social and political history.
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This site includes links to all the official sites for governments worldwide.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information, and each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political background.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about countries around the world.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. This site includes links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local volunteer activities.
This site is known as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web Ring. Browse the Web ring and see what former Volunteers are saying about their service.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts of their Peace Corps service.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Armenia
An Armenian news index.
ArmGate has links to a variety of resources on Armenia.
International Development, Government, and Business Sites
A site maintained by the American University of Armenia, sponsored by Sun Microsystems' worldwide Information and Technology Exchange program.
The site of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia.
Armenia Diaspora, a site developed by the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Armenian International Women’s Association.
Recommended Books about Armenia
1. Balakian, Peter. Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.
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2. Marsden, Philip. The Crossing Palace: A Journey Among the Armenians. New York: Kodansha America, 1993. 3. Suny, Ronald Grigor. Looking Toward Ararat: Armenia in Modern History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
1. Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000. 2. Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985. 3. Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
1. Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, CA: McSeas Books, 2004. 2. Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, WA: Red Apple Publishing, 2000. 3. Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, NY: Picador, 2003.
4. Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, NY: Perennial, 2001. 5. Kennedy, Geraldine (ed.). From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, CA: Clover Park Press, 1991. 6. Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
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LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Mail Few countries in the world offer mail service comparable to the United States and Armenia is no exception. Fortunately, there have been improvements over the past few years. At your pre-departure orientation (staging), you will be given a temporary mailing address to use during pre-service training. We suggest that people not send you packages while you are in training. There is a chance you will move to your permanent site before they arrive. You must pick up packages in person, which requires absence from training and payment of duty and/or storage fees. After you are sworn-in as a Volunteer, it will be easy to receive packages at your site, and you won’t have to pay duty fees for items sent through the U.S. Postal Service. (An agreement with the government exempts Volunteers from duty fees.) Please note, however, that items sent to Volunteers via DHL, FedEx, UPS, etc., are not exempt from customs fees and you are required to pay a fee of 20 percent on the declared value of any sent items. You and your family and friends should number your letters so you can ascertain what is and what is not arriving. In the past, letters have taken as few as 10 days and as long as six weeks to arrive. Do not send valuable items through the mail. We strongly encourage you to regularly write family and friends. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so it is a good idea to advise them that mail can be slow and that they should not worry if they do
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not receive your letters regularly. If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/Armenia would notify the Office of Special Services at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., which would then contact your family. Telephones Long-distance telephone service is generally available but expensive. Do not expect to have constant access to a phone all of the time. You may have to use a neighbor’s phone or travel by bus to another village or town if phones in your area don’t work. If you call from outside the capital, it may take longer to get a line. The cost of a long-distance call is approximately $2.40 per minute, although many now use Internet or callback services at lower costs. Staff members have had success in using Sprint, MCI, and AT&T calling cards from local telephones. If you wish to use this option, obtain a card before you leave the United States. Inexpensive international calling cards are also available in most towns and in Yerevan. Advise your family that in an emergency, they should contact the Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C. The daytime telephone number is 800.424.8580, extension 1470; the after-hours number is 202.638.2574. This office will then immediately contact Peace Corps/Armenia. Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access E-mail and Internet access is becoming more available, particularly in Yerevan and other large communities, but service tends to be slow. Peace Corps/Armenia suggests you obtain a free e-mail account with www.freenet.am; it is easier to access than other services. You will probably not have regular and easy access to the Internet. Please prepare family and friends for this reality and inform them that responses to e-mails may be delayed. Some Volunteers travel for hours to get to an Internet café. 26 PEACE CORPS
Smaller communities are also gaining Internet access through the school connectivity project. This project, managed by Project Harmony, will connect all Armenian schools over the next few years. The Peace Corps works closely with Project Harmony, and Volunteers are helping schools apply for connectivity and equipment. Volunteers also teach computer applications and Internet use at these schools.
Housing and Site Location
During pre-service training, all trainees are required to live with host families. After completing pre-service training and swearing-in, all Volunteers live with host families for a minimum of four months at their permanent site. Living with a host family provides several benefits including accelerated language acquisition; a deeper and more profound crosscultural understanding; and an improved, in-depth community integration. Being a respected and equal member of a family not only provides strong personal and professional rewards, it can ensure your safety and security as well. Host family accommodations will vary depending on the community. Some may be apartments or separate detached houses; some may have European-style bathrooms while others might use "outhouses" or "squat" toilets. Regardless of the situation, trainees and Volunteers live as the members of their community do. After the four-month period, Volunteers may remain with host families or change to another living situation in their communities depending on availability and personal preferences.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer, you will receive a number of allowances in local currency. A one-time settling-in allowance is provided in order to buy basic household items when you move to
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your site. You will also receive a one-time allowance to cover heating-related expenses (e.g., to purchase of a wood stove and wood or installation of adequate electrical wire for electric heater use or to offset increased electricity costs in winter). Your monthly living and travel allowances, which are paid directly to your account here every month, are intended to cover food, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, transportation, reading materials, and other incidentals. Costs related to the living allowance are reviewed annually (generally in February). You will also receive a housing allowance based on the lease agreement signed between you and your landlord. The housing allowance is provided at the same time as the living allowance. Volunteers are also eligible for a tutor allowance to pay for continuing language study. Payments are made monthly upon presentation of a completed tutor reimbursement form. A leave allowance is provided with the living allowance. If you are asked by Peace Corps to travel for official, medical, or programmatic reasons, you will be given additional money for transportation and lodging. The Peace Corps sets up a bank account in local currency for each Volunteer and deposits all the allowances and other payments into these bank accounts. Volunteers can set up personal accounts in dollars if they choose. Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Armenia with these allowances. You are strongly discouraged from supplementing your income with money brought from home. Consistent with the philosophy that development and learning are most effectively achieved when people live and work together, it is important that Volunteers live at the same standard as the people whom they serve.
Nevertheless, many Volunteers do bring extra money (in cash, traveler’s checks, or credit cards) for vacations. Credit cards can be used only in some of the more expensive hotels and a few big stores in the capital, but are handy for travel outside the country. They can also be used at ATMs in Yerevan to obtain cash (in drams). Retail outfits in Armenia do not accept traveler’s checks, but they can be cashed for a fee at some banks.
Food and Diet
Much of Armenian social life revolves around food, music, singing, and dancing. Typical meals include bean and beet salads, cabbage, lavash (thin bread), sliced cold cuts (e.g., salami and bologna), cheese, and potatoes or pilaf. Some of the best fresh vegetables and fruits found anywhere are available in Armenia during the summer. The apricots and tomatoes are of extremely high quality. During the long winter months, cabbage, potatoes, and meat are mainstays. It is possible but difficult for vegetarians to maintain a meatless diet. The Middle Eastern influence in Armenia has brought vegetarian food, but this is more readily available in Yerevan and larger cities. Although your refusal to eat meat may seem strange to your host family, they are likely to respect your decision and accommodate your needs accordingly. Although cabbages, carrots, and potatoes are widely available throughout the winter, you may want to prepare preserves during the summer and fall to avoid having to purchase other produce in the capital. With a little planning, you should be able to maintain a healthy alternative diet. Typical drinks are tan (made of yogurt, water, and salt), homemade fruit juices, Armenian and Georgian wine, and
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Armenian brandy and vodka. Armenians are noted for their endless toasts, but you should not feel compelled to drink a large quantity of alcohol just to appease your host. Armenians respect self-control, and most will respect yours if you drink moderately or not at all.
Most Volunteers travel in the country in public buses, vans, or taxis. Peace Corps/Armenia prohibits Volunteers from owning or driving vehicles in Armenia for any reason. Violation of this policy will result in termination of your Volunteer service. Although the Peace Corps provides Volunteers with transportation home at the end of their service, some choose to remain in-country on their own or to travel to other countries on their way home. If you choose to do this, you can obtain a cash payment in lieu of the government-rate airplane ticket to your home of record. This benefit is not available to Volunteers who terminate their service early.
Geography and Climate
Armenia lies in the mountainous Caucasus region. The landlocked country is bordered by Turkey in the west, Iran in the south, Azerbaijan in the east, and Georgia in the north. Because of its protected position and generally high elevation, Armenia’s climate is mostly dry and continental, although there are regional variations, such as hot, dry summers in the Araks Valley and cooler, more humid summers in the more elevated areas. Intense sunshine occurs for many days of the year, and the summer is long and hot (except at the highest
elevations), with an average July temperature in Yerevan of 77 degrees Fahrenheit, which can rise as high as 108 degrees. Winters tend to be moderately severe, with an average temperature in Yerevan of 26 degrees. Autumn is generally mild, sunny, and long, while spring is usually short and wet.
On weekends and in the evening, Armenians love to stroll with their families and friends. In summer months, in some of the larger cities throughout Armenia, sidewalk cafés appear on every corner and in every shady spot. Armenians enjoy relaxing at these cafés late into the evening. In smaller towns and villages, activities tend to focus on spending time with family. Chess and backgammon (called nardi) are popular, and Armenian boys and girls play basketball, soccer, tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. In addition to participating in these activities, Volunteers enjoy hiking and exploring local historical sites.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Outside the capital, Armenians tend to be conservative in both dress and behavior. One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your identity and acting like a professional all at the same time. Peace Corps will provide you with guidelines we hope will prove helpful as you make this transition. You will be serving as a representative of the Peace Corps and will be expected to dress and behave accordingly. While some of your counterparts may dress in seemingly worn or shabby
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clothes, this is because of economics rather than by choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their best clothes. A foreigner who wears ragged, unmended clothing is likely to be considered an affront. For men, professional dress calls for collared shirts, slacks, and occasionally suit jackets and ties. For women, professional dress calls for dresses or skirts (knee- or mid-calf length,) modest blouses or tops, and dress slacks. Women should be prepared to occasionally wear suits or formal wear for presentations or other businessrelated events. Volunteers need to continually strive to maintain neat and clean clothing and hair. This may be an on-going challenge, as water is rationed in many regions and it can be difficult to heat water when you have it. Since Armenia is fairly conservative when it comes to personal appearance, long hair and/or ponytails on men are considered unacceptable. (However, the hair you cut off could go to a good cause and get you a free haircut! Locks of Love (www. locksoflove.org) is a not-for-profit organization that provides hair prosthetics for children that have developed long-term medical hair loss. It is a great way to begin demonstrating your cultural sensitivity and at the same time helping children in need.) Nose rings and other facial piercings, in both men and women, are also unacceptable. Throughout the countries of the former Soviet Union, tattoos have a negative connotation and historically have been associated with the underworld, mafia, and prisons. When dressing, every effort should be made to ensure that large obvious tattoos are covered by clothing. Personal identity and individuality is very important in American culture and hair, piercings, and tattoos are some of the ways that Americans express that individuality. The challenge lies in balancing that expression and acceptance
into your community and understanding of the culture. In the end, your hair will grow back, your nose can be re-pierced, and a T-shirt instead of a tank top can easily cover your tattoo.
Rewards and Frustrations
The living conditions of Peace Corps service affect Volunteers differently. Do you need a lot of privacy or very little? Are you oblivious to dirt or fairly sensitive? Nearly all Volunteers, at some point, find the conditions under which they live and work to be difficult or challenging. Most experience feelings of discouragement and futility–usually during the first year of service. Things that seemed clear become unclear. The direction to take seems obscured. You may often feel that you are not in control, and this can be frightening. When this happens, you may wonder whether you are really up to the job, whether you may have caused the problem, whether it is really possible to accomplish anything, or whether what you are doing is really worthwhile. You may feel fatigued although you have been working no harder than usual. You may find yourself short-tempered or annoyed with yourself and others. There is no magical or easy method for overcoming these feelings but, fortunately, they are usually short-lived. Bear in mind that the frustration of “not getting anything done” usually derives from the realities of the country, not from your own inadequacies. It is often helpful to break up a problem into smaller units and work at it one step at a time. If you can step back and try to assess the problem afresh, you will feel more positive about the headway you have made and are making. Without a doubt, when you have completed your service, you will recall your time here with fondness, and you will be amazed by the personal change that has resulted from overcoming the challenges.
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PEACE CORPS TRAINING
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Pre-service training is approximately 10 weeks long. Training takes place six days a week and may include some evening sessions. Adequate time is allowed for leisure activities and outings with your host family. You will receive instruction in the Eastern Armenian language, cross-cultural adaptation skills, Armenian history and culture, personal safety awareness, technical skills related to your project, and medical topics. You will also receive important information about the administrative side of the Peace Corps as it relates to Volunteer allowances, responsibilities, and office policies. During training, you will live with an Armenian family in a village near the training site. This gives you the opportunity to practice your language skills and to develop cross-cultural understanding on a deeper level. Three meals a day will be provided by your host family. As mentioned earlier, host family accommodations vary depending on the community; regardless of the situation, you will live as the majority of the other members of your community. During training, you will be evaluated on how well you adapt to the culture, learn the language, and interact with Armenians and on your degree of professionalism. The Peace Corps staff will make every effort to provide the support necessary to ensure your successful completion of training. You must meet the minimum training requirements by the end of pre-service training to be sworn in as a Volunteer.
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Technical Training Technical training prepares you to work in Armenia by building on the skills you already have and by helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff, Armenian experts, and current Volunteers will conduct the training program. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have to the community in which you will serve as a Volunteer. Technical training will include sessions on the general economic and political environment in Armenia and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Armenian ministries and agencies that invited the Peace Corps to assist them. Language Training As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance, they help you integrate into your host community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings. Armenian language instructors teach formal language classes in small groups of four to five people. The Armenian language is also introduced in the health, cultural, and technical components of training. Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills further once you are at your site.
Prior to being sworn-in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies throughout your two years of service. Cross-Cultural Training The experience of living with an Armenian host family is designed to ease your transition to life at your site. Families go through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of pre-service training and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Armenia. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families. Cross-cultural and community development training will help you improve your communication skills and understand your role as a facilitator of development. You will be exposed to topics such as appropriate ways to enter a community and establish productive relationships, gender and development, nonformal and adult education strategies, political structures, art, literature, and history. Health Training During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You will be expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. Trainees are required to attend all medical sessions. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in Armenia. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also covered. Safety Training During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces risks at home, at work, and 37
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during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. During your service, there are usually three training events. The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows: • In-Service Training: Provides an opportunity for Volunteers to upgrade their technical, language, and project development skills while sharing their experiences and reaffirming their commitment after having served for three to six months. Mid-Service Conference: Assists Volunteers in reviewing their first year, reassessing their personal and project objectives, and planning for their second year of service. Close-of-Service Conference: Prepares Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service and reviews their respective projects and personal experiences.
The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted to country-specific needs and conditions. The key to the training system is that training events are integrated and interrelated, from the pre-departure orientation through the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by the training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
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YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN ARMENIA
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. Peace Corps/Armenia maintains a clinic with two full-time medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available at local hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported to the United States.
Health Issues in Armenia
Major health problems among Peace Corps Volunteers in Armenia are rare and are often the result of a Volunteer’s not taking preventive measures to stay healthy. The most common health problems in Armenia are minor ones that are also found in the Unites States, such as colds, diarrhea, constipation, sinus infections, skin infections, headaches, dental problems, minor injuries, STDs, emotional problems, and alcohol abuse. These problems may be more frequent or compounded by living in Armenia because certain environmental factors raise the risk or exacerbate the severity of illnesses and injuries.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Armenia, you will receive a medical handbook and a medical kit (described later in this chapter). 41
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During training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical officer. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as the Peace Corps will not order these items during training. You must bring a threemonth supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available in Armenia and it may take months for shipments to arrive. You will have physicals at the mid-service conference and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Armenia will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Armenia, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you must accept considerable responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of contracting a serious illness or sustaining a serious injury. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure,” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Armenia is to take the following preventive measures: Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Armenia during pre-service training. Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose
to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from the medical officer about this important issue. Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer. Volunteers are required to wear a protective helmet when riding a bicycle and to wear a seat belt when riding in Peace Corps vehicles. Failure to comply with this regulation will result in immediate administrative separation from the Peace Corps. This means you will be sent home; there is no appeal. It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let the medical officer know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries. In addition, you are expected to comply with any therapies recommended by the medical office or referral facility.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met. A WELCOME BOOK · ARMENIA 43
Tampons are provided by the Peace Corps medical officer in Armenia. Sanitary napkins are available for purchase at local markets.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a medical kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. The medical officer will provide additional items when appropriate for your individual situation. Kit items are intended for your own use and can be periodically restocked at the medical office. Medical Kit Contents Ace bandages Adhesive tape American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook Antacid tablets (Tums) Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B) Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens) Band-Aids Butterfly closures Calamine lotion Cepacol lozenges Condoms Dental floss Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl) Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s) Iodine tablets (for water purification) Lip balm (Chapstick) Oral rehydration salts Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit) Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed) Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough) Scissors
Sterile gauze pads Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine) Tinactin (antifungal cream) Tweezers
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
The Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services must complete a final review of your health records prior to your pre-departure orientation (staging). It is your responsibility to ensure that all medical and dental work and reports have been completed prior to staging. You will not be allowed to attend unless you have final medical and dental clearance. If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve. If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services. If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have had any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for their cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment shortly after you arrive in Armenia. A WELCOME BOOK · ARMENIA 45
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, it will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements. You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs. If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. The Peace Corps discourages you from using contact lenses during your service because the necessary solutions are not available incountry and the Peace Corps does not supply them. If you are eligible for Medicare, are more than 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to keep an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again. The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information. The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control. Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft). A WELCOME BOOK · ARMENIA 47
Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites. Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.— with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m. Absence of others: Assaults usually occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied. Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant. Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face. For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ: Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft: • • • • • Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency Carry valuables in different pockets/places Carry a “dummy” wallet as a decoy
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary: • Live with a local family or on a family compound
• • •
Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S. Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault: • • Make local friends Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors Travel with someone whenever possible Avoid known high crime areas Limit alcohol consumption
• • • •
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security; Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis. The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and
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security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support. If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed. After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provide support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident. The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/ trainees in Armenia as compared to all other Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA) region programs as a whole, from 2001–2005. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy. To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps' classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
INSERT COUNTRY-SPECIFIC GRAPH HERE
1The average numbers of incidents are in parenthesis and equal the average reported assaults for each year between 2001–2005. 2Incident rates equal the number of assaults per 100 Volunteers and trainees per year (V/T years). Since most sexual assaults occur against females, only female V/Ts are calculated in rapes and minor sexual assaults. Numbers of incidents are approximate due to rounding. 3Data collection for Armenia began as of 2001 Source data on incidents are drawn from Assault Notification Surveillance System (ANSS) and Epidemiologic Surveillance System (ESS); the information is accurate as of 09/18/06.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); A WELCOME BOOK · ARMENIA 51
burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent). When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What If You Become a Victim of a Violent Crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can. Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with
the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime. If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers. In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Security Issues in Armenia
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to
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minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Armenia. Trainees and Volunteers are always responsible for taking care of themselves and their possessions. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Some safety concerns in Armenia follow. Motor vehicle accidents. Using local transportation and crossing the street safely are the greatest safety risks in Armenia. Volunteers are discouraged from traveling at night and when road conditions are bad, especially in the winter. Public transportation is usually by minivans, many of which are old and in poor condition. Seat belts in cars and vans are nonexistent. Pedestrians in cities have to be especially cautious; although crosswalks exist, they are not usually recognized by drivers. Also, it is common for drivers to not turn on headlights at night, making it difficult to see oncoming traffic. Robbery/burglary. The homes of some Volunteers have been robbed in the past, so you will need to take the same precautions you would take in the United States. The Peace Corps will advise you on home safety during training and will reimburse you for the costs of installing peepholes, proper door locks, and hallway lighting. Do not bring valuables with you to Armenia. Border conflicts. Since the cease-fire agreement with Azerbaijan in 1994, border incidents have been rare. Volunteers are placed near some border areas, but only after these areas have been free from incidents for several years. There are occasional reports of incidents along the “line of contact” (an area within Azerbaijan) between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.
Harassment. Volunteers have reported varying levels of harassment, such as having objects thrown at them by teenagers, being called derogatory names, and overt sexual comments. Strategies for coping with harassment will be discussed during pre-service training. Alcohol abuse. Making toasts with alcohol is a prevalent social custom in Armenia. Male Volunteers, especially, may be pressured to drink at social gatherings and even during normal daily activities such as community meetings. Strategies for avoiding drinking and drinking responsibly will be discussed during pre-service training. Threat of sexual assault. Volunteers have been targets of sexual assault in Armenia, which is often associated with cross-cultural differences in gender relations and alcohol consumption. Volunteers who take seriously the safety training provided by the Peace Corps can minimize their risk.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Armenia, do what you would do if you moved to a large city in the United States: Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Armenia may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
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Volunteers attract a lot of attention both in large cities and at their sites, but they are likely to receive more negative attention in highly populated centers than at their sites, where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to unwanted attention. In addition, keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch (the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat). Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. And always walk with a companion at night.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Armenia
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for addressing safety and security incidents. Armenia’s in-country safety program is outlined below. The Peace Corps/Armenia office will keep Volunteers apprised of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be provided in Volunteer newsletters and in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network. Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Armenia. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle
and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout your two-year service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training. Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before a Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection is based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; housing options and living arrangements; and other Volunteer support needs. You will also learn about Peace Corps/Armenia’s detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Armenia will gather at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate. Finally, in order for the Peace Corps to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps safety and security coordinator or medical officer. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
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DIVERSITY AND CROSSCULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences. Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Armenia, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Armenia. Outside of Armenia’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the perception in some countries that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Armenia are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present. 59
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To ease the transition and adapt to life in Armenia, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Armenia
The Peace Corps staff in Armenia recognizes the adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers Armenia has a traditional, patriarchal culture. Among the challenges of living and working in Armenia is learning to cope effectively and constructively with the different status of women and men and the different standards of behavior to which they are held. 60 PEACE CORPS
Female Volunteers may find that being a single woman living alone goes against the cultural norms of their community. Besides receiving unwanted and inappropriate attention from Armenian men, female Volunteers may also have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the professional respect of colleagues in the workplace. In addition, female Volunteers may experience resentment from host country women over their “male-like” position of authority in the community. Finally, female Volunteers need to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public (e.g., not smoking in public or drinking in bars) to avoid developing an undesirable reputation. Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color Volunteers of color may face challenges both inside and outside the Peace Corps community. Within the Volunteer corps, you may be the only minority trainee or Volunteer in a particular project. You may not find minority role models among the Peace Corps/Armenia staff and may not receive necessary personal support from other Volunteers. Once you move to your site, you are likely to work and live with individuals who have no experience or understanding of a non-Caucasian-American culture. Because of ignorance, stereotyped cultural perceptions, or the country’s current or historical relations with other countries, you may encounter varying degrees of harassment. You may not be perceived as being North American, or you may be viewed with suspicion, or you may be evaluated as less professionally competent than a white Volunteer. In any community in Armenia where you are not known, you need to be prepared for staring, pointing, and comments. Finally, you should be prepared to hear derogatory terms and racial epithets that would be considered completely inappropriate in the United States today.
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Volunteer Comment “Be prepared to explain who you are and why you look a little different from what they know of Americans from TV and movies. Armenians will ask and wonder. Don’t take offense at it. Don’t feel you have to explain who you are to everyone who asks. Try to make it an educational opportunity for those who matter to you.”
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers Respect comes with age in Armenia. Younger Volunteers may have to work harder than their older colleagues to be accepted as professionals. Older Volunteers may feel isolated within the Peace Corps community overseas because the majority of Volunteers are in their 20s. Training may present its own special challenges. Older trainees may encounter insufficient attention to their needs for an effective learning environment, including timing, presentation of materials, comfort level, and health. You may need to be assertive in developing an individual approach to language learning. Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers have to practice discretion. Although homosexuals certainly exist in Armenia, homosexuality is illegal and may be considered immoral by some people. Certain styles of hair and dress (e.g., earrings on men) and mannerisms considered acceptable in the United States may be viewed with disdain or suspicion by Armenians. Your basic civil liberties may be ignored, and you may be hassled in bars or in the streets.
You may serve for two years without meeting another homosexual Volunteer or Armenian. Most Armenian homosexuals probably have migrated to larger cities, while many Peace Corps Volunteers are posted in rural sites. Relationships with host country nationals can happen, but as with all cross-cultural relationships, they are not likely to be easy. Lesbians will have to deal with constant questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex (as do all women). Wearing an “engagement ring” may help. Gay men must deal with machismo: talk of conquest(s), girl watching, dirty jokes, etc. The Peace Corps is committed to providing support for all Volunteers regardless of sexual orientation. Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers Volunteers are frequently asked about their religious affiliation and may be invited to attend a community church. Although Volunteers not in the practice of attending church may have to explain their reasons for not attending, it is possible to politely decline if the church or religious practice is not one of their choice. Most Volunteers find effective ways to cope with this challenge and come to feel quite at home in Armenia. Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities In Armenia, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. There is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States. That being said, as part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Armenia without unreasonable risk of
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harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/ Armenia staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Armenia?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits. The Peace Corps’ allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 100 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds for any one bag. Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution. Because of heightened security since the events of September 11, 2001, do not pack items such as scissors or pocketknives in your carry-on luggage.
What is the electric current in Armenia?
It is 220 volts, 50 cycles. Because power surges and cuts can put a strain on voltage converters and appliances, make sure that what you bring is of good quality. The Peace Corps does not provide transformers. We recommend tape players that use “D” batteries because “C” batteries are a little harder to find. “AA” and watch and calculator batteries are easy to find.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their expenses. Often, Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and
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traveler’s checks are not widely accepted in Armenia, but you can obtain cash (in dollars or drams) from ATM machines in the capital if your ATM card has a Visa logo. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects; Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase personal property insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Armenia do not need to get an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating motorized vehicles. Urban and rural travel is by bus, van, or taxi.
What should I bring as gifts for Armenian friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are assigned to individual sites during pre-service training. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages. Some live in a town with other Volunteers, and most are within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require an eight- to 10-hour drive from the capital.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For non-emergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580, extension 2423.
Can I call home from Armenia?
International phone service to and from Armenia is good relative to that of other developing countries. However, at times (especially on weekends and holidays) the phone system is easily overwhelmed, and phone service may be disrupted. You may want to bring AT&T, MCI, or Sprint
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calling cards to minimize costs of international calls. You can purchase international calling cards in Yerevan and in towns/cities.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
No. Differences in technology make U.S. cellphones incompatible with the Armenian system, so only cellphones purchased locally will function in Armenia. While some Peace Corps staff members are equipped with cell phones to attend to emergency calls. the Peace Corps does not provide Volunteers with cellphones, Some Volunteers choose to obtain them locally on their own.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
A growing number of businesses offer Internet access in the capital and some of the larger cities. Because of the weaker infrastructure in outlying areas, Volunteers posted to rural sites may be limited to sending and receiving e-mail on their occasional visits to the capital or regional hubs. Before leaving the United States, many people sign up for free e-mail accounts, such as Yahoo or Hotmail, which they can access worldwide. Peace Corps/Armenia suggests that you obtain a free e-mail account with www.freenet.am, as it is easier to access in Armenia than other services. Some people bring laptop computers, but they are responsible for insuring and maintaining the computers themselves. Note that you probably will not find the same level of technical assistance here as you would at home and that replacement parts can take months to arrive. Also note that having Internet access via your laptop is only a remote possibility because very few Volunteers have adequate telephone lines in their homes or in their place of work. The Peace Corps office in Yerevan has three computers available for Volunteers to conduct project research. If you bring a laptop, be sure to buy a high-quality surge protector; power lapses and surges are
common. Volunteers who have computers also significantly increase their risk of becoming a victim of crime. The Peace Corps will not replace stolen computers and strongly encourages those who bring them to get personal property insurance.
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WELCOME LETTERS FROM ARMENIA VOLUNTEERS
Welcome to Armenia, a small, post-Soviet country with a long and deep history. I am a community business development Volunteer working in market building for a craft business, tourism, and growing a sustainable women’s nongovernmental organization (NGO). I find it very interesting to help this country rebuild from one that once had full socialist employment to a growing market economy. In a country that lacks communication between the capital and regions, I work a lot on connecting and building relationships and projects among organizations in my city and other organizations and businesses that can make them grow. Finding areas of hope for the future is of great importance in Armenia and I can see it improving just by being here and working with Armenians to develop new projects and new ideas. My wife (a TEFL Volunteer) and I live in a city of 14,000 in northeast Armenia. It is an incredibly impoverished yet beautiful region. During Soviet times, it was a tourist area, but new sources of income and a renewed market for tourists are developing. Armenia has many opportunities for change in everything from the health and education systems to the mounting environmental issues to the changing and growing economy. While being here we have gained great memories, friendships, and self-understanding. Keep in mind that Armenians typically dress formally unless they’re at home; black is the primary color for everything (i.e., shoes, pants, and coats). Most food is available here, but bring your favorite spices. Also, bring pictures of family and friends for you and because Armenians love to see them. Bring music, a flashlight, books, and rechargeable batteries. A laptop is useful if you have one. For winter, bring long underwear and a sleeping bag to stay warm. The language is difficult at first,
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so get a head start before coming. Armenia is definitely an assignment that requires perseverance and patience, but it will bring many accomplishments and friendships. Good luck and see you soon. —Lars Andreassen
You are probably asking many questions about Armenia: Where is it? What is it like? Will I like it there? Armenia is wonderful. I knew little about it before I arrived, but I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now. I really like my town and feel comfortable here. You will, too, but it will take patience, flexibility, an open mind, a sense of humor, and an interest in becoming part of your community. It doesn’t happen easily and it doesn’t happen right away. In time, you will laugh when you think back to things that worry you now. You might be surprised by how easy some things are to adapt to, and other things you never thought about will constantly frustrate you. It’s all part of being a Volunteer, but there are many other people here—Volunteers, staff, and the people in your community—who will help you. Don’t worry about what to pack. The best advice I heard was, “you’re moving to another country, not another planet.” Most things you need can be bought here. Bring a few basic clothes for summer and winter. Most clothing can be bought here or shipped from home later. You will definitely want to bring long underwear and you will need a winter coat. You can get a coat here, but I was happy that I brought one along; it got cold earlier than I expected. Take advantage of training to focus on learning the language. It’s a little scary at first, but the teachers are great, and you’ll be living with Armenian families so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn and use Armenian. Don’t be afraid to use the language right away. Of course you’ll make mistakes. I have been here a year and I still make mistakes every day! You will find the people here are incredibly patient, and are impressed by how much you know—even from the first few weeks of training.
I am a community health education Volunteer in a small town in the mountains of northern Armenia. I teach health lessons to children at an NGO, and teach English at the youth center in town. I also helped organize a camp for youth about the environment. If you have worked for a while like I have, you will find it takes a while to adjust to the schedule here. I work with a lot of people at a lot of different organizations, on a lot of different things. It’s not the same old 9 to 5 I had in America, but the longer I am here, the more I enjoy the flexibility to help with things that I find are important to the people here. Enjoy the next few weeks before you get here. Spend time with your family and friends, and we’ll see you when you arrive! —Don Kramer
Shnorhavor (congratulations) on being a Peace Corps/ Armenia Volunteer! Get ready for your great adventure in the Caucasus region. When I learned I was coming to Armenia, I focused on packing. Don’t stress too much, most things you can find in the capital and it’s a small country. But here you go: a full photo album of your life in the U.S.; clothes that will last a long time because you’ll wear them over and over and hand wash them; business wear because Armenians are more formal, sensible shoes, waterproof boots, a few pairs of long underwear, and a good winter coat; your favorite brand of toiletries or makeup; a sleeping bag; music!!!, a camera (digital or regular), a laptop, movies (they’re not necessary and things of value are a risk, but Armenia’s generally safe and you’ll be happy you brought them, just be discreet); a Swiss-army knife or multiple fix-it tool is handy; peanut butter, parmesan cheese, and spices (when you’re on your own, you’ll cook everything from scratch!) What to expect: Don’t expect anything! Come with loads of patience, optimism, and an open mind. Things won’t always go your way, and it’s better to accept this early and act accordingly rather than fight it. That being said, you’ll
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be living with two different host families for your first nine months—about three months in training, six months when you move to site. Although they say Peace Corps is a 24/7 job that will challenge and reward you and give you an emotional roller-coaster ride, living with an Armenian family will even further break you in, change you, give you insight to the Armenian mind, give you great friendships, and occasionally drive you crazy. You’ll quickly get used to the living conditions (water on once a day, bucket baths, a long winter). Understanding the language and culture takes longer and more patience, but eventually you’ll get those, too. You’ll get stared at, called at, especially if you’re a minority, but we Volunteers are close and here for support. Bon voyage and welcome! —Allison Young
You are about to arrive in a country with a rich history and culture. You will be warmly welcomed by smiles and hugs from those with whom you will live and work. It’s a challenge to decide what to bring with you for the two-year trip. I hope that as you prepare for your new adventure, in the midst of your busy packing, you’ll consider some “mental packing” as well. What can you mentally prepare for and which “mental tools” can you bring with you to ensure a healthy and productive Volunteer service? Consider these two very important things: adaptability and activism. Immersion into a new culture is simultaneously exciting and overwhelming. Come desiring to taste and prepare new foods, wash laundry by hand, walk a few miles to work, wear the same outfit a few days in a row, and learn to dance traditional Armenian style. Mentally prepare yourself for new and unanticipated experiences and to take them with stride and a sense of adventure. Be willing to adapt your habits and go about daily life the Armenian way. When your class is unexpectedly cancelled because children have to chop wood for the winter, find an axe and go along. If the water’s out for a few days and you don’t get to take a shower, put on more
deodorant and a fresh shirt. When you’re late because the bus or van broke down, relax, you’ll get there soon enough. Be willing to adapt to a new pace of working and relationship building. You may visit a co-worker for a meeting to discuss a project, and end up having coffee and dessert without any mention of the project. Enjoy the coffee and the company as a beginning to a relationship that will develop into a partnership. If you embrace new experiences as fun opportunities and not view them as strange or uncomfortable, you’ll find your time here much more fulfilling. Your Volunteer experience will give you the opportunity to accomplish a wealth of projects, make an abundance of friendships and encounter a score of new experiences. Come determined to get the best out of your time to make the best possible impact. Avoid pre-departure project planning, but freely dream about the possibilities and come ready to perform. Be determined that if times get difficult at work or it seems there’s little to do, you’ll keep seeking opportunities. Arrive willing to work outside your specific assignment, not neglecting it, but ready to branch into other areas where there are community needs. If you’re a health Volunteer invited to a local orphanage to read stories, consider it. If you’re a business Volunteer asked by a school to present to teachers about differences between Armenian and American schools, try it. Find opportunities in your community to be active outside your workplace as well. Play with the local soccer team, take a baking class, or start a movie or book club for your community. So, get busy packing, but don’t forget that some of the most valuable things you’ll need won’t fit into your suitcase. —Tera Sprague
Welcome to the “Posh Corps!” Many of us call it that because everything you could want to live comfortably is available here, specifically, in Yerevan. Most Volunteers have access to water at least a few hours a day; electricity 24/7 for most; Internet service within a reasonable distance from site; and many PCVs have natural gas for cooking and heating. A WELCOME BOOK · ARMENIA 77
Like I did, you may have to pull out a map to figure out where in the world this is. Some friends may be telling you to “Have a great time in Albania, or Algeria,” or, “Where is it? Romania?” After you’ve lived here a while, you’ll see how rich Armenia’s culture and history are and you’ll begin to realize who these Armenian people are and hopefully see we are more similar than different. We all love our families, enjoy eating BBQs and going to parties, and we all hope for the best for the future. Peace Corps service offers a myriad of experiences that depend on your willingness to open your heart and mind. Armenians are hospitable and generous, anxious to be your friends. I find that the people who have the least are the people who give the most. Armenians love to share photos, so bring plenty to show them your family, friends, home, city, school, etc. Maps are useful; I found few here realize the actual size of the U.S. People ask me how far it is from my home in San Diego to D.C. When I ask in return, “by plane or car?” I see some surprised faces. A variety of clothes for seasons that range from really hot to really cold is a must. I brought some of each with me and had the rest sent to me. The darker the clothes the better, so dirt doesn’t show. Armenians take pride in how they look so make sure to bring at least one nice outfit for conferences, meetings, etc. Sturdy shoes are a must for every occasion: business meeting in dress shoes, walking on snow and ice in winter boots, hiking on muddy trails in boots, or cruising city streets in summer sandals. Other recommendations: a sleeping bag for crashing with other PCVs, “sick food” (saltine crackers or Ramen noodles) for your first tummy ache, a journal to record revelations, a watch to track how late the bus is, rechargeable batteries, flashlight/headlamp to find your way to the outhouse in the middle of the night, hobby items (guitar, knitting, books, games) to keep your sanity during the long winter months, CDs to introduce to other PCVs.
Most importantly, bring patience and understanding. You are about to embark on a journey that will enrich your life in ways you won’t think possible. This country will challenge your preconceptions, test your adaptability, and, most of all, it will find a niche in your heart. Peace, Love and Progress, —Leslie Blanchard
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This list has been compiled by Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have a 100-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Armenia. When choosing luggage, remember that you will be hauling it in and out of taxis and vans and sometimes lugging it around on foot. The most important qualities are that it be durable, lightweight, and easy to carry.
Although you can buy clothing in Armenia, much of it is synthetic and it may not meet your tastes. Variety in clothing is not as important as how it looks. Bring sturdy clothes that will last a long time. You can have some clothes made locally, so it is a good idea to bring patterns or pictures of clothes you like. Be sure to pack a good supply of underwear; polypropylene, wool, and cotton socks and glove liners; and long underwear of different weights (e.g., wool and silk). For Women • Dressy and casual clothing for winter and summer: skirts, dresses, blouses, knit tops, slacks, and jeans, including one formal outfit (skirts and dresses should fall below the knee)
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At least two pairs of flat shoes, along with dressy sandals, tennis shoes, winter boots, and hiking boots if desired (quality is important) Jewelry and makeup (women in Yerevan wear both, but they are not necessary) Slips Leggings Shorts, for wearing at home or while jogging early in the morning (Armenian women do not wear shorts in public) Warm coat, hats, and scarves
• • • •
For Men • An assortment of winter and summer clothing, including collared shirts for work and at least one dressy outfit (sport coat, tie, dress shirt, and slacks); Volunteers suggest dark colors because they look clean longer than light colors Shoes for work, tennis shoes, winter boots, sandals for summertime, and hiking boots if desired (quality is important) Warm coat and wool hats and wool or ski-type gloves Shorts, for wearing at home or sports (Armenian men do not usually wear shorts unless playing sports)
• • • • • • Good can opener Spices (your favorites may be difficult to locate, especially in winter) Cooking supplies (many items can be found locally) Basic cookbook Plastic storage bags Measuring cups and spoons
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
• • Favorite over-the-counter medical supplies (items provided by the Peace Corps tend to be generic brands) A three-month supply of any prescription drugs you take (to give the Peace Corps ample time to order them) Two pairs of eyeglasses, if you wear them (replacements can take several months to arrive) Contact lens supplies (not available locally and not supplied by the Peace Corps) Towels, absorbent and of good quality Hair-coloring products, if you prefer a certain brand
• • • •
• • • • • • • • • • Watch (durable, water-resistant, and inexpensive); batteries can be purchased in Armenia Travel alarm clock (battery operated is best) Sunglasses, for dusty road travel and for winter and summer glare Sturdy work gloves, especially if you like to garden Poncho and folding umbrella Fanny pack Small daypack without a frame (for shopping and carrying books or work materials) Camera (film and processing are available locally) Voltage transformers and surge protectors (if you bring 110-volt appliances) Variable voltage adapter, which switches the current from AC to DC and can reduce the need for battery replacements (also available in Yerevan electronics stores) Flashlights (available in Armenia, but choices are limited)
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• • • • • • • • • • •
Batteries (rechargeable ones are best) CD or tape player/recorder and shortwave radio Cassette tapes or CDs One or two sets of double-size flat sheets (available locally) Small tool kit (available locally) Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool Sewing kit Pictures and videocassette tapes of home (for yourself and to share with friends and students) U.S. postage stamps (so that travelers going home can hand-carry mail for you) U.S. and world maps which make good teaching aids and can serve as wall hangings Inexpensive gifts (e.g., toys, costume jewelry, magazines, key chains, kitchen gadgets such as potato peelers) Games (e.g., Scrabble, chess, Trivial Pursuit) Sports equipment (e.g., Frisbee, baseball, volleyball) Detergent for delicate fabrics (e.g., Woolite); dry cleaning is limited in Armenia Sleeping bag rated for minus 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and a pad (Volunteers also suggest a compactable bag and fleece liner)
• • • •
• • • • • • English language tapes Dictionary and thesaurus Word games Songbooks Calendars with colorful pictures Scissors
• • •
Small stapler with staples (available locally) Tape measure (with inches and centimeters) Novels and short stories (for yourself and your work)
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The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone, and the list does not include everything you should make arrangements for.
❒ Notify family that they can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; after-hours duty officer: 202.638.2574). Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends
❒ ❒ ❒ Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas. Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel. Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular passport.)
❒ ❒ ❒ Complete any needed dental and medical work. If you wear glasses, bring two pairs. Arrange to bring a three-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking. A WELCOME BOOK · ARMENIA 87
❒ ❒ Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while you are away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your health care during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have preexisting conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage. If there is a lapse in coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated.) Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
❒ Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
❒ Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas. Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
❒ Purchase personal property insurance to extend from the time you leave your home for service overseas until the time you complete your service and return to the United States.
❒ ❒ ❒ Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender or loan service. Execute a power of attorney for the management of your property and business. Arrange for deductions from your readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770. Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.
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CONTACTING PEACE CORPS HEADQUARTERS
The following list of numbers will help you contact the appropriate office at Peace Corps headquarters with various questions. You may use the toll-free number and extension or dial directly using the local numbers provided. Be sure to leave the Peace Corps tollfree number and extensions with your family so they have them in the event of an emergency during your service overseas.
Peace Corps Headquarters Toll-free Number:
800.424-8580, Press 2, then Ext. # (see below) Peace Corps Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Headquarters 1111 20th Street, NW Washington, DC 20526
Peace Corps’ Mailing Address:
For Questions About:
Responding to an Invitation
Office of Placement Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia Desk Officer E-mail: armenia@ peacecorps.gov
Direct/ Local Number
Ext. 1875 Ext. 2423
Programming or Country Information
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For Questions About:
Plane Tickets, Passports, Visas, or Other Travel Matters Legal Clearance
Travel Officer (Sato Travel)
Direct/ Local Number
Office of Placement Screening Nurse
Medical Clearance and Forms Processing (including dental) Medical Reimbursements
Handled by a Subcontractor Ext. 1770
Loan Deferments, Volunteer Taxes, Readjustment Financial Allowance Withdrawals, Operations Power of Attorney Staging (Pre-departure Office of Staging Orientation) and Reporting Instructions
Note: You will receive comprehensive information (hotel and flight arrangements) three to five weeks before departure. This information is not available sooner.
Family Emergencies (to get information to a Volunteer overseas)
Office of Special Services
(after-hours answering service)
P EAC E C O R P S
Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Headquarters 1111 20th Street NW · Washington, DC 20526 · www.peacecorps.gov · 1-800-424-8580