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PEACE CORPS / BANGLADESH HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Bangladesh
Peace Corps Volunteers first began serving in the area that is now Bangladesh when it was known as East Pakistan, and the Peace Corps remained active in the area throughout the 1960s. Tensions that had existed between East and West Pakistan for years came to a head in 1970 when the central government declared that Urdu would be the official language of all Pakistan, thereby supplanting East Pakistan’s native Bangla. In the midst of political tension and impending war, the Peace Corps had to close its program in East Pakistan. At the end of the war of independence in 1971, East Pakistan declared itself an independent country called Bangladesh.
|Sector||Assignment||Beg. Yr||End. Yr|
|UNV||United Nations Volunteer||1975||2000|
|Youth and Community Development||Commun. Serv/Deg.||2002||2005|
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Bangladesh
The Peace Corps did not reestablish a program in the area till November 1998, when the first group of Volunteers to serve in Bangladesh arrived in Dhaka, the capital. With a tremendous need to improve the English language skills of Bangladeshi teachers, Volunteers initially worked exclusively as English teachers at primary-teacher training institutes. Two more groups of Volunteers arrived over the next three years, and Peace Corps/Bangladesh was beginning to establish its roots when the events of September 11, 2001, created concern for the safety of Americans living abroad. When political tensions heated up prior to Bangladesh’s parliamentary elections in October 2001, Peace Corps/Bangladesh decided to suspend operations. But less than a year later, in August 2002, a small group of Volunteers arrived to restart the program. This group was assigned to work in youth development centers, which provide vocational training to adolescents and young adults from disadvantaged rural and urban backgrounds. These Volunteers were free to develop projects based on community needs. Because of the tremendous demand for teachers of English as a foreign language, many of the Volunteers started TEFL classes at the youth development centers. For that reason, Peace Corps/Bangladesh nowprovides all Volunteers with TEFL training, though Volunteers in this area remain free to work with center staff to develop projects that reflect their own knowledge and skills as well as community needs. In February 2003 and August 2003, two more groups of Volunteers arrived, with about half the Volunteers in each group assigned to community development through youth development centers and half assigned as TEFL teachers at government secondary schools. In addition to their primary assignments, Volunteers in Bangladesh have plenty of opportunities to establish secondary projects in their communities, including working with community health programs and other worthwhile programs established by the many aid organizations that operate in Bangladesh. In 2004, Peace Corps/Bangladesh plans to initiate an environmental health project.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: BANGLADESH AT A GLANCE
The land that constitutes Bangladesh has seen many political changes, and the area’s history is intertwined with the myths, empires, epics, and wars of the Southeast Asian subcontinent.
In 1757, the land that is now Bangladesh became part of British India and was called East Bengal. When India won its independence from Britain in 1947, its vast territory was partitioned to create a Muslim nation, Pakistan, made up of West Pakistan and East Pakistan. These two entities were bound by a common religion but were separated by culture, language, and 1,000 miles. With the central government located in West Pakistan, East Pakistan felt dominated and exploited. East Pakistan gained a powerful voice of protest with the rise of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, popularly known as Mujib. Despite Mujib’s occasional arrests, he founded the Awami League, a political party that soon dominated East Pakistan’s seats in the National Assembly. The Awami League initiated talks on a division of power and the possible formation of a national East Pakistan government. The discussions failed, and the president postponed the National Assembly session. Widespread civil disobedience in East Pakistan ensued, Mujib was arrested again, and his party dissolved. Most party leaders fled to India. There, they declared a provisional government, but a severe crackdown by the Pakistani Army ignited a civil war. Many Pakistanis fled to India during this war, increasing tensions between India and West Pakistan. Finally, the Indian government intervened on behalf of East Pakistan, and in December 1971 the state of Bangladesh was born.
Bangladesh is a multiparty democracy with a unicameral parliamentary government. The 300 members of Parliament (called the Jatiya Sangsad) are elected by direct popular vote for five-year terms, and the president is elected by Parliament for a five-year term. The leader of the party that wins the most seats in legislative elections is usually appointed prime minister by the president; other ministers are drawn from MPs of the majority party.
The political life of Bangladesh enjoyed a short period of calm
and cooperation after independence, followed by years of autocratic rule, martial law, struggling political parties, arrests, and assassinations. In 1991, the democratically elected government of Begum Khaleda Zia (widow of former President Ziaur Rahman, who was assassinated in 1981) and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party took office. In 1996, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, daughter of independence leader Mujib, became prime minister when her party formed a coalition that won the majority of seats in the election that year. The struggle for power continued with denunciations, intermittent strikes, and occasional violence, leading up to the parliamentary elections in October 2001. In that election, the major opposition parties formed a loose coalition and succeeded in unseating Sheikh Hasina’s government; Khaleda Zia’s BNP won the election, returning their leader to power as prime minister.
In spite of political tensions, Bangladesh has made great strides over the past 25 years, which is due in part to increasing government effectiveness. Thenation has experienced steady economic growth, at an annual rate of approximately 5 percent, over the past four years. Most Bangladeshis earn their living from agriculture. Rice and jute are the primary crops, but wheat and tea are assuming greater importance.
Manufacturing of ready-made garments provides employment for more than 1.5 million people, many of them women, and generates nearly 80 percent of the country’s export earnings.
Women provide about one-quarter of the earned income, frequently aided by microcredit loans from the Grameen Bank, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, small nongovernmental organizations, and other innovative credit sources.
Although the industrial sector is growing, mainly in jute products and cotton textiles,unemployment and underemployment remain serious problems. The growing garment industry employs tens of thousands of Bangladeshis, but this may change when the lifting of a quota system is fully implemented, allowing U.S. importers to buy their goods from any country without limit. Bangladesh will be forced to compete with China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries where labor is cheap and manufacturing skills better developed. The need for other sources of employment will become even more critical for Bangladesh’s continuously growing population.
People and Culture
Bengalis make up the largest ethnic group in Bangladesh, constituting 98 percent of the population. In addition, there are Biharis (some of whom consider themselves stranded Pakistanis), whose ancestors immigrated from the northeast Indian state of Bihar, and the unique tribal peoples of the Hill Tract regions in the north and east. Bangla (also known as Bengali), the national language, is spoken throughout the country, as well as in eastern India. The dominant religion is Islam (83 percent), with a sizable population (16 percent) of Hindus. Buddhists, Christians, and others make up 1 percent of the population.
Geography and Climate
Although it is relatively small, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It borders the Bay of Bengal to the south and southeast, and India surrounds the rest of the country, with the exception of a small part in the extreme southeast that borders Myanmar (Burma). This border is currently closed.
Most of the country is low lying and flat, forming the delta of three great rivers: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna. These rivers often change course, resulting in a complex pattern of waterways crisscrossing the land. There are low hills in the northeast and the southeast, where the land rises to almost 900 meters. Every year a third of the low-lying land becomes flooded, making communications and farming
difficult, though the flooding results in a regularly replenished fertile alluvial soil. The region is also prone to earthquakes and cyclones. A cyclone that hit the southeast in 1991 caused massive damage. The most significant recent earthquake occurred in 1997, causing considerable damage in Chittagong.
Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon climate. Rainfall is very heavy; in fact, the wettest place in the world is just over the border from Sylhet. Winter (December to March) is the favorite time of year for most Westerners in Bangladesh. The days are warm and sunny (20º to 25º Celsius, or 68º to 77º Fahrenheit) and the nights cool (10º to13º C, or 50º to 55º F).
This is the driest time of year, and there frequently is no rain at all during this period. On the other hand, mosquitoes flourish in this season and are a real nuisance.
The period from mid-March to mid-June is very hot (33º to 37º C, or 91º to 99º F) and humid (80 to 95 percent). There are frequent storms and even an occasional cyclone. The rain tends to fall in short bursts, and flash floods are common. The lightning is incredible at times, and there may be severe hailstorms.
The monsoon season from mid-June to mid-October is very humid but slightly cooler (25º to 33º C) than the winter season. The monsoons differ in intensity, but it is not unusual for rain to fall for days without stopping. Lightning storms are less frequent, but flooding increases greatly across the country. Clothes rot, tempers fray, and people warmly welcome the end of monsoon season.
In autumn (mid-October to mid-December) the weather remains hot (28º to 33º C), gradually cooling off as winter approaches. Night temperatures drop, falling to 15º to 20º C, and rainfall decreases. As water levels go down or dry up, however, mosquito larvae mature and the insects begin biting.
Roughly two-thirds of Bangladesh’s land is arable, and a little over 10 percent remains forested. The country’s flood plains represent one of the world’s most important wetlands, home to hundreds of species of fish, plants, and wildlife and a critical habitat for migrating birds. The Sunderbans in southwest
Bangladesh is the world’s largest single mangrove forest and is recognized as a World Heritage Site. Of note for bird-watchers: The Sunderbans hosts more than 600 species of birds, including mynahs, kingfishers, and fishing eagles.
Pressures on Bangladesh’s aquatic and terrestrial resources
are intense and growing because of the high population density and the agricultural expansion into marginal lands that development brings. Most of Bangladesh’s tropical forests and almost all of its freshwater flood plains have been affected by human activities that are detrimental to natural resources.
In the 1980s, scientists began finding evidence of arsenic contamination in some well water, but it was not until the mid1990s that the crisis came into public awareness. The origin of the pollution is geological, with arsenic released into groundwater through naturally occurring conditions in the aquifer.
Peace Corps/Bangladesh tests all Volunteer sites for arsenic contamination of the water supply and provides Volunteers with their own testing kits.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Bangladesh, 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. If you do not have access to the Internet, visit your local library. Libraries offer free Internet usage and often let you print information to take home.
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 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 Bangladesh
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Dhaka to how to convert from the dollar to the taka. Just click on Bangladesh and go from there.
Visit this site for general travel advice about almost any country in the world.
The State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Bangladesh and learn more about its social and political history.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the UN.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about 228 countries.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find 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. A former Volunteer who served in Kenya maintains it. 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.
To see some snapshots of Bangladesh, check out this Web page set up by the family of a Bangladesh Volunteer.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Bangladesh
The site of one of the major Internet service providers in Bangladesh, a company owned by the Grameen Bank. The bank’s innovative concept of microloans has provided the poor in general and women in particular with the means to start small businesses, starting a worldwide trend.
Site of the Bangladesh Observer
Site of the Independent
Site of the Daily Star
A Bangladeshi search engine
A Bangladeshi Web portal
A Bangladeshi Web portal
A site for cricket fans
International Development Sites About Bangladesh
Asian Development Bank
Food and Agriculture Organization
International Labour Organization
United Nations Children’s Fund
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Site of the World Bank’s Dhaka office
World Health Organization
- Collins, Larry, and Dominique Lapierre. Freedom at Midnight. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975.
- Gardner, Katy. Songs at the River’s Edge: Stories From a Bangladeshi Village. London: Virago Press, 1992.
- Hartmann, Betsy, and James K. Boyce. A Quiet Violence: View From a Bangladesh Village. London: Zed Books, 1984.
- Monan, Jim. Bangladesh: The Strength to Succeed. Herndon, Va.: Stylus Publishing, 1990.
- Novak, James J. Bangladesh: Reflections on the Water. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
Books About the Peace Corps
- Banerjee, Dillon. So You Want to Join the Peace Corps: What to Know Before You Go. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2000 (paperback).
- Herrera, Susana. Mango Elephants in the Sun: How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York: Harper Perennial, 2001.
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000 (paperback).
- Thomsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969, 1997 (paperback).
- Tidwell, Mike. The Ponds of Kalambayi: An African Sojourn. Guilford, Conn.: The Lyons Press, 1990, 1996 (paperback).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Mail becomes a very important lifeline, especially in the beginning when you are adjusting to a new culture, a new language, and a new work situation. Unfortunately, however, mail service between the United States and Bangladesh can be erratic.
Volunteers report that while most letters and packages eventually arrive, they can take anywhere from a few days to several months to reach you. You can help improve the chances of a speedy arrival by asking family and friends to write “Via Airmail” or “Par Avion” on their letters. You might also want to ask people to number their letters so you can keep track of whether any have been lost.
Packages often take more than a month (and sometimes two or three) to arrive, even when they have been sent by airmail.
In addition, a tax based on the value of the goods contained in the package must be paid to receive it. Services such as DHL, UPS, and FedEx are faster, but considerably more expensive for both the sender and the Volunteer because of higher customs duties on express packagessometimes up to $50.
Packages are sometimes opened en route, and the contents may not be returned to the box intact. Small, flat manila envelopes seem to make it through without an extra charge. It is advisable to tell people to not send you anything valuable and to list all the items sent somewhere on the inside of the package.
Until you get your permanent address at the end of training, your friends and family can send mail to you at the following Peace Corps office address:
House 10F Road 82
Dhaka 1212, Bangladesh
Telephone communications can be frustrating in
Bangladesh—land lines between towns are not always reliable, and you may have difficulties getting through. However, cellphone service is developing rapidly, even in rural areas.
Because of heightened concern worldwide over the safety and security of Americans abroad, Peace Corps/Bangladesh recently decided to provide all its Volunteers with a cellphone, which can be used to call any other cellphone in the country. Volunteers are expected to use their cellphone for Peace Corps-related purposes only and to maintain it in good condition.
Most cellphones purchased in the United States will not work in Bangladesh because of the differing technology. Although cellphones capable of making and receiving international calls are available for around $600 in Dhaka (along with high monthly fees), the Peace Corps does not provide this type of phone.
Computer, Internet, and E-Mail Access
E-mail access in Bangladesh is growing rapidly, though it is still not available in all towns. More and more cybercafes are springing up in Dhaka and other major metropolitan areas, and there are private e-mail services in some of the larger district cities and towns. Charges for Internet and e-mail access usually run less than $1 an hour, depending on how luxurious the cybercafe is. Some places charge a flat rate for sending a message and another rate for receiving messages. If you do not already have an e-mail account that you can access overseas, you may want to get one before you come to Bangladesh.
An amazing accomplishment of Bangladesh is the widespread degree of electrification in rural areas. When driving in the countryside, you will see simple mud-brick and bamboo-mat houses along the road with an electrical box attached to the outside wall. Because of the ready availability of electricity, most Volunteers in Bangladesh enjoy the convenience of electric lights and fans. If you have a laptop, feel free to bring it with you. Although you will initially live with a host family whose housing may be very basic, it should be possible to set up a laptop computer if you move into your own apartment.
Although the heat, humidity, and dust could damage it, you will probably be very happy to have a laptop with you for typing letters, lesson plans, etc. While you may not have room for a printer, you can buy disks locally and take them somewhere to have your materials printed out for a modest charge. If you choose to bring a laptop, we strongly recommend that you insure it.
Housing and Site Location
During pre-service training and for the first three months at site, Volunteers live with host families to develop Bangla language skills, gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Bangladeshi culture, and facilitate integration in the community. Following this initial three-month period, Volunteers may choose to continue living with their host family or seek other accommodations. Volunteers generally find modest apartments in their communities, which usually have electricity and running water. Host family accommodations are reviewed and approved in advance by Peace Corps staff. All housing selected by Volunteers must also be approved by the Peace Corps/Bangladesh office.
The communities where Volunteers live and work are identified by Peace Corps staff in conjunction with the host institutions. Peace Corps/Bangladesh staff visit and evaluate all sites for safety and suitability. Around the middle of pre-service training, each Volunteer is assigned a site according to the “best fit” between the individual and the site. Volunteers have the option of being posted with another Volunteer—provided the request is mutual—or being posted by themselves. In training, you will develop some idea of where you would like to be posted, and Volunteer preference is taken into account.
Before you are sworn in as a Volunteer, you will spend two to three days at your assigned post, gaining some knowledge of the community in which you will live and of the work that you will do. This is an excellent time for you to reconsider your commitment to two years of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The experience is like no other, rich and rewarding in ways that cannot be duplicated otherwise, but it does require honest consideration of your ability to cope with the stress and discomforts of living outside your culture and working in an environment that is probably very different from what you are used to.
Living Allowance and Money Management
You will receive a monthly living allowance that permits you to live modestly in Bangladesh. The expectation is that you will live at the same standard as your Bangladeshi counterparts, but without endangering your health or safety. The living allowance is calculated to cover costs for housing, utilities, food, clothing, toiletries, household supplies, transportation to and from work, locally available recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses such as postage, film, and reading materials. In Bangladesh, Volunteers receive a small additional allowance to purchase a couple of outfits made in the local style of dress.
Food and Diet
The food in Bangladesh is similar to that served in Indian restaurants in the United States. The standard diet is rice with spiced lentils (dal) and fish, meat, or vegetable curry. The staple food is rice, and low- to middle-income families eat rice three times a day. Wheat is not part of the traditional diet but is becoming more and more popular. It is used in delicious and satisfying unleavened breads (e.g., chapati, nan, roti, etc.) and snacks. Some Volunteers find it hard to adapt to what they consider excessive oil and fried foods in the Bangladeshi diet.
The availability of fruit and vegetables varies according to the area and the season. The winter provides a good variety of fresh vegetables, whereas the best season for fruit (including mangoes, pineapples, and papayas) is the summer. Bananas are plentiful for most of the year.
Volunteers usually cook for themselves once they are settled into their new home, but there are plenty of ready-made foods available for those who are not kitchen inclined. Tasty, filling prepared foods include samosas (meat or vegetables fried in a triangular pastry), shingaras (potato and vegetables in pastry), and many kinds of mishti (small, cakelike sweets that are sometimes served with a sweet sauce). Some Volunteers are able to eat in a communal setting at their work site.
Cleanliness in food preparation is always an issue. Fresh fruits and vegetables should not be eaten unless peeled first or soaked in a bleach or iodine solution, and cooked food should always be eaten hot. This issue will be addressed more thoroughly in pre-service training.
Vegetarians enjoy plenty of choices if they cook for themselves. Dried beans, canned beans, and tofu are available in
Dhaka, eggs are always available, and various kinds of processed cheese that does not have to be refrigerated can be found. If you are invited to eat at someone’s home, you may face the difficulty of having to decline what is offered to you, as fish and meat are part of most people’s diet. However, if you explain your diet before you arrive, your hosts may be able to cater to your needs. In Bangladesh, being a vegetarian often means that one eats fish or chicken, so it is advisable to be very explicit about your dietary needs. In addition, the concept of veganism is not familiar to the vast majority of
Bangladeshis. Vegan Volunteers should be prepared to educate their host families about their dietary preferences and to make adjustments to their diet if necessary.
Alcohol is illegal in Bangladesh and virtually unavailable. What little alcohol is available is brewed or distilled illegally and sold on the black market. There are regular incidents in Bangladesh of people dying of poisoning from drinking bad alcohol. Do not even think about trying it.
In Bangladesh, as in many cultures, a distinction is made between the use of the left and right hands. The left hand is used for cleaning one’s body after using the toilet and is therefore considered unclean. Writing with the left hand is not a problem, but food must not be touched with the left hand.
Since Bangladeshis generally eat using their fingers, you should always use your right hand to eat even if you are left-handed. There is no need to worry about making a mess, as everybody else does.
It is also considered offensive to offer things or make gestures with your left hand. Similarly, it is important to try to use your right hand to accept letters, pass papers in the workplace, pay for things, etc. The only exception to this is at mealtimes, when food is passed with the left hand as the right hand is normally covered with rice and dal. In pre-service training, we will discuss strategies for left-handed Volunteers to be culturally sensitive in a right-handed culture.
An incidental note about using one’s hands incorrectly: The thumbs-up and A-OK gestures that are common in the United States are considered obscene in Bangladesh. Although they are seen often enough in American films and advertising to have become somewhat less offensive in Dhaka, outside the capital city, and especially in rural settings, these gestures should be avoided.
Bicycle rickshaws are the most common form of transport for small distances. The rickshaws have three wheels, with a sofa-like seat for two behind the driver and a hood that can be put up for rain. A rickshaw ride can be quite rickety, so passengers often have to brace themselves with hands or feet. Riding in a rickshaw on an open road with a cool wind in your face can be very pleasant, but riding in one in Dhaka during rush hour is a completely different experience. Many rickshaws have poor brakes and can be stopped only by running into the back of a rickshaw in front. Auto rickshaws, also called “baby taxis,” are motor-driven three-wheelers whose back seat can hold up to three people. (One or two extra people sometimes sit next to the driver when there are no police around.) These taxis are convenient, but traveling in them can be a nightmare, as the drivers often ignore traffic rules and collisions are frequent. “Tempos” are taxis that hold 10 to 20 people and follow set routes for a low fee. (In rural areas you might find yourself sharing them with chickens,goats, or calves.) Rickshaw safety will be discussed during training.
Local buses can be irritatingly slow. Long-distance buses tend to travel at unsafe speeds, but companies are beginning to impose penalties on drivers who arrive earlier than their scheduled time. Some long-distance buses have modern coaches with air conditioning, offering relatively comfortable travel. Accidents and crime are more frequent during overnight bus travel, however, so Volunteers are prohibited from traveling at night.
Train travel is usually a pleasant experience. Although local trains tend to be overcrowded, long-distance trains are comfortable and reliable. First-class, air-conditioned sleeping compartments are available on some routes, and most trains have fans. Rail service to the west is complicated by numerous river crossings; on these routes, travelers have to get off the train and onto a ferry to rejoin the railway line on the other side.
Travel to the southwest may mean taking a short ferry trip across a small river or up to three hours for a larger river. Waiting time for getting onto a ferry varies enormously, the current record being 15 hours. Because ferries commonly have accidents, they present a real safety risk. You will learn about traveling safely on water during pre-service training. Another means of travel to the southwest is via launches.
These boats vary in quality but can be very relaxing, and it is worth booking your trip in advance to travel on one of the better ones. The Rocket, a favorite, is a modern ship with a television in the main lounge, a dining hall, and other amenities. Launches can be fogbound during the winter.
Airplane travel is relatively cheap. A 20-minute flight from Dhaka to Rajshahi is much more appealing than an eight-hour ordeal by bus and ferry, but flights are often delayed. Walking is by far the safest method of travel in Bangladesh, though the concept of walking for pleasure is not widely understood (probably because it is too hot and muggy most of the year).
When walking, one should never assume that traffic will come from only one direction, even on one side of a divided roadway.
In Bangladesh, most social activities center on the home or cultural events such as theater, music, and dance. Because Bangla became the nation’s official language after independence, English has been de-emphasized in education for the past 30 years and many educated Bangladeshis speak limited English. The number and quality of friendships you develop, therefore, will depend on your own efforts to develop language skills that help you traverse the Bangla-English divide.
However, this does not mean Bangladeshis are not eager to host English-speaking guests, and as you get to know the people in your town, you are likely to be invited to their homes often. If the hospitality becomes a burden, you will have to practice the same sensitivity you would practice in the United States in turning down social invitations. Participating in local cultural activities is a good way to meet people and to learn more about the country. Such events take place mostly in Dhaka, but there are also occasional concerts by touring professionals and amateur musicians and various groups performing traditional drama in some of the district centers.
Social life is relatively quiet in smaller towns and villages, and weddings and religious or national holidays are common occasions for celebration. As a Volunteer, you may be invited to a wedding of people you barely know. Going out to eat is not common, but most midsize towns have at least one Chinese-style restaurant. Many towns also have cinemas that show films in Bangla and Hindi. Larger towns have more variety in cinemas and restaurants, and Dhaka boasts many high-quality restaurants that serve Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Italian food.
Badminton, cricket, soccer, and volleyball are popular sports in Bangladesh, and many Volunteers posted in rural areas participate. There are also tennis and squash courts in Dhaka and a few other places. Note that because Bengali women traditionally do not participate in sports, it is much more difficult for women than for men to engage in sports or other kinds of physical activity outside of the expatriate clubs in Dhaka. This may prove frustrating to some female Volunteers.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
In trying to fit into the local culture, you will inevitably retain your own cultural identity, but there are behaviors you can adopt that will allow you to assimilate more easily and feel more comfortable in social and professional situations. A professional demeanor is very important. Though you will be in Bangladesh as a Volunteer with the Peace Corps, you will be working as a representative of a Bangladeshi agency or organization and will be expected to dress and behave accordingly.
Inappropriate dress may be construed as a sign of disrespect for one’s colleagues and can reflect badly not only on you but on the Peace Corps as an assistance organization. However, we can only provide you with guidelines; when you arrive in Bangladesh, you will make your own observations that will give these guidelines meaning.
Dressing modestly is essential for female Volunteers in Bangladesh. Many Western women who live outside of Dhaka choose to wear local fashions, but if you wear Western clothes, they should be loose fitting, cover your upper arms, and cover your legs down to the ankles. Slips must be worn with see-through fabrics, and tight T-shirts, sleeveless tops, or low-cut garments will attract unwelcome attention. Shorts are inappropriate except when you are alone in your home or at an expatriate facility in Dhaka. Traditional dress for
Bangladeshi women consists of either a shalwar kameez (for younger, unmarried women) or a sari (for married women), but these distinctions do not apply so rigidly to Western women. A shalwar kameez consists of long, baggy pants worn with a loose-fitting tunic and a long scarf (orna) draped around the front to cover one’s chest. A wide variety of shalwar kameez outfits are available for 500 taka (about $10). In
Dhaka, because of the their popularity among Western women, larger sizes are being made for sale off the rack, but you can also have them made to order by local tailors (bring a favorite pair of pants for copying by the tailor to get the right fit). Women assigned to rural areas often wear saris, which require a petticoat and blouse, available locally in all colors and sizes for about 100 taka (about $1.75). A basic sari costs about 300 taka ($5), but one made of hand-painted or embroidered silk could cost several thousand taka.
Male professionals wear either Western-style clothing or, especially for formal occasions (including going to a mosque), a punjabi, which consists of baggy pants (usually white) worn with a tunic. Most male Volunteers wear lightweight cotton pants and shirts, both of which can be tailored locally for less than it would cost to buy the same clothes in the United States. (Tailored pants cost about $8 or $9 and shirts cost about $4 or $5.) Shorts are not appropriate for male Volunteers except when participating in sports. Most Bangladeshi men who do manual labor wear a lungi, a thin, ankle-length skirt that is wrapped around the waist and can be pulled up to resemble shorts. Some male Volunteers wear lungis around the house, but they are not appropriate at work or when out in public. Sandals are the most common footwear for both men and women, and women often wear earrings, nose studs, and bangles.
A Volunteer is often the only American in a Bangladeshi community. Hence, in addition to the responsibility for their conduct as individuals, Volunteers, whom host country citizens
inevitably see as examples of American culture and customs, have a responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner reflecting credit on the Peace Corps and their country. At the same time, Volunteers are expected to show respect for Bangladesh’s culture and customs.
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Most Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Bangladesh Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Bangladesh. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
PEACE CORPS TRAINING
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Prior to being sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will participate in an intensive nine-week training program. This training takes an experiential approach to learning, in which each Volunteer lives with a host family in order to experience the language and culture firsthand. In addition, trainees take group trips on public transportation to visit other towns and learn about the country outside the confines of classroom training.
An invitation to attend pre-service training is not a guarantee that you will be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Throughout the program, you will be evaluated on your language skills, motivation, cross-cultural sensitivity, emotional maturity, and technical competence as they pertain to your ability to serve successfully as a Volunteer in Bangladesh. However, this does not mean that you will be in a situation of constant observation and criticism. Those who are sincere in their commitment to Peace Corps service will receive all the support they need to satisfactorily complete training and assume their duties as Volunteers.
Technical training will prepare you to work in Bangladesh by building on the skills you already have and helping you develop new skills appropriate to the needs of the country and your work assignment. Training emphasizes 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 economic and political environment in Bangladesh and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Bangladesh agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them. You will be supported and evaluated throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community.
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 community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings.
Therefore, language training is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer.
Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside the classroom and with your host family. The goal is to achieve enough facility with Bangla that you can communicate with Bangladeshis on everyday matters such as taking public transportation, asking for directions, and buying food and use any specialized vocabulary pertinent to your assignment. We anticipate that you will reach functional fluency in your first six months on the job, but during training you will work on strategies to continue language studies on your own.
Living with a Bangladeshi host family during pre-service training is designed to ease your transition to life at your site.
Sharing meals, spending free time, and celebrating holidays with your Bangladeshi host family during training are excellent opportunities to practice speaking Bangla and to learn about the cultural differences between Americans and Bangladeshis. 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 community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, nonformal and adult education strategies, and political structures.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information by the Peace Corps medical officer, who will also be available to deal with any medical emergencies that arise. You will be expected to practice preventive health care 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 Bangladesh. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other STDs are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces your risks at home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and learn about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In addition to pre-service training, Peace Corps/Bangladesh conducts regular in-service training events in which Volunteers can reexamine their commitment to Peace Corps service and upgrade their language, technical, and project development skills while sharing information, experiences, and strategies with other Volunteers. 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 predeparture orientation through the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by the training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN BANGLADESH
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/Bangladesh maintains a clinic with a full-time medical officer, who takes care of Volunteers’ primary health care needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Bangladesh at local hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an American-standard medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Health Issues in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is an extremely challenging assignment with regard to the health issues Volunteers face. The International Center for Diarrheal Diseases and Research is located in Dhaka for good reason. Food-, water-, air-, and mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, hepatitis, cholera, typhoid, and tuberculosis exist in Bangladesh, along with environmental problems (i.e., air, water, and noise pollution). Volunteers should also expect to encounter health problems related to heat and humidity, limited dietary choices, and stress from unwanted attention or harassment.
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 Bangladesh, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training, you will receive a medical kit with supplies for taking care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs.
During pre-service 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. Please bring a six-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for shipments to arrive.
You will have physicals halfway through your service and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Bangladesh will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Bangladesh, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care. Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept a certain amount of responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The adage “An ounce of prevention …” 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 Bangladesh is to take preventive measures for diarrheal disease, mosquito-borne diseases (i.e., malaria and dengue fever), respiratory diseases (i.e., sinusitis, bronchitis, and tuberculosis), transportation- or sports-related injuries, and emotional problems.
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken.
These illnesses include food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, Guinea worms, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Bangladesh during pre-service training.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. 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 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. 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.
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 Bangladesh and the fact that a pregnant single woman would likely find it difficult to sustain her position in the community, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met.
If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical officer in Bangladesh will provide them. If you require a specific feminine hygiene product, please bring a six-month supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
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)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Tinactin (antifungal cream)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
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 any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your pre-departure orientation or shortly after you arrive in Bangladesh. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.
Bring a six-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 six-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. Johns’ 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 six-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 to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in health care plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary health care 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 health care benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping 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. Petty 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 83 percent of Volunteers surveyed 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 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 in the Volunteer’s control. Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2003, 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)
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 47 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the late evening between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.— most often occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: More than 75 percent of crime incidents occurred when a Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Almost a third 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; and Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise. The safety and security team also tracks crime statistics, identifies trends in criminal activity, and highlights potential safety risks to Volunteers.
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 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 provides 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 Bangladesh as compared to all other Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA) region programs as a whole, from 1999–2003. 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.
The chart is separated into the eight most commonly occurring assault types. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); 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 trainingcompetencies 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.
Security Issues in Bangladesh
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As is the case anywhere in the world, crime exists in Bangladesh. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions in largetowns, for instance, are favorite work sites for pickpockets.
Following are some aspects of Bangladeshi culture that you should be aware of because they could affect your safety and security:
Bangladesh has a very conservative culture, and to live and work successfully in the country you will constantly have to consider your behavior, appearance, and lifestyle within a Bangladeshi context. If you show respect for the culture, your co-workers and members of your community will look out for you, and you are likely to feel safer than you ever have before.
If you ignore or violate their cultural expectations, they may care less about your welfare, and you could experience the consequences. Because you are an adult, you will make your own choices. But if you do not heed the expectations about dress and behavior, you will compromise not only your own safety but possibly that of other Volunteers. That being said, foreigners have a lot of leeway, and you will eventually become better equipped to decide what you absolutely must conform to and where you can take liberties without compromising your reputation and thereby your safety. Bangladesh is particularly hard for female Volunteers in that its male-dominated society leaves women with limited personal rights. For instance, women and girls are not free to walk around their own town without being harassed. The lack of social interaction between men and women means that dating is not part of the culture, and premarital sex is so taboo that it is rarely discussed. The frustrations of young males spill out onto the streets, and passing females often become the target of catcalls, touching, and sometimes violence. Though this issue is regularly discussed in the national newspapers, a general disregard for the value and individuality of women remains integral to the social order. Female foreigners are also vulnerable to harassment wherever they go, and it is not uncommon for them to be yelled at, teased, and sometimes touched while walking along the street, with bold invitations to engage in sexual activity. Male Volunteers are also called names.
Unmarried female Volunteers have to be careful to avoid giving even the slightest sign that they are “friendly.” People in Bangladesh generally do not smile at strangers, so it is inappropriate to smile at a passing stranger of the opposite sex.
On the job, Volunteers also have to avoid the ease and friendliness with co-workers of the opposite sex they may be used to at home—the idea of men and women being “buddies” is not understood. To avoid unwanted advances, female Volunteers must at least start out being all business. As you get to know your town, your workplace, and your co-workers, you will begin to learn the ropes of appropriate social behavior. You will learn where and when you can relax, and where and when you must keep up your guard.
Personal safety will be discussed by current Volunteers during pre-service training, and you will be provided with coping strategies. Volunteers do learn how to deal successfully with the stress of always being observed and even the rudeness of inappropriate remarks. In the end, they have a rich and rewarding two years of living and working in Bangladesh.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on 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 relationships in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Bangladesh, do what you would do if you moved to a new 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 Bangladesh may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
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 will 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 Bangladesh
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 reporting and responding to safety and security incidents. Peace Corps/Bangladesh’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
Information sharing—The Peace Corps/Bangladesh office will keep you informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety. The country director will offer regular updates in the Volunteer newsletter and in memorandums. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, you will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Training will include sessions on specific safety and security issues in Bangladesh. 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 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. 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 the 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; different housing options and living arrangements; and other Volunteer support needs.
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Bangladesh’s detailed emergency action plan, which may be 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, you will gather with other Volunteers in Bangladesh at a predetermined location 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 country director 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.
DIVERSITY AND CROSSCULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling its mandate to share the face of America with host countries, the Peace Corps is 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 Bangladesh, 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 Bangladesh.
Outside of Bangladesh’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 belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Bangladesh 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.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Bangladesh, 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 be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Bangladesh
The Peace Corps staff in Bangladesh 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 will take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
In Bangladesh, the virtues of the ideal woman include patience, obedience, endurance, and self-sacrifice. Although women are visible in public, particularly in Dhaka, the majority have limited opportunities outside the home and even face discrimination within their own families. What follows is an outline of the typical rural woman’s life.
When a girl is born her birth is rarely celebrated and no call for prayer is given, as it would be for a boy. From early childhood, girls are made aware that, unlike their brothers, they are liabilities rather than assets to the family. In a country of great scarcity, what little is available—from food to clothing to education to health care—is offered first to males. Over 50 percent of girls ages six to seven months have stunted growth, and the death rate for girls ages one to four is 15 per 1,000, compared with 12 per 1,000 for boys of the same age.
Girls are trained to take on the only socially acceptable role for a woman, that of wife and mother. From a young age, a girl helps her mother with household chores and looks after younger children. Only 50 percent of girls enroll in primary school, compared with 70 percent of boys. In secondary schools, girls’ attendance is less than half that of boys.
Beginning at about age 10, segregation of the genders becomes stricter. Some families observe purdah, a Muslim and Hindu practice in which a girl’s movements outside the home are restricted to protect her chastity and reputation. How strictly a young woman observes purdah depends on her economic status, as poorer women in villages need freedom of movement to fetch water, tend animals, and so on.
Rural women generally perform tasks at home—cooking, cleaning, and child care—while men negotiate with the outside world as they work in the fields or go to the market. Thus Bangladesh differs from other predominantly Muslim countries where women can freely work in the fields and go to the market. In addition, rural Bangladeshi women generally do not share in tasks that involve earning an income.
The legal age of marriage is 18; however, 20 percent of women have their first child before age 15, 66 percent before age18, and 80 percent before age 20. Dowries are illegal in Bangladesh but are still very common, as is wife beating. After marriage, a wife’s position is inferior to that of other women in her husband’s household. The twin threats of polygamy and divorce, both sanctioned by Muslim law, help husbands to ensure their wives’ obedience. If a husband instigates divorce, the wife has no choice but to accept the decision, as Muslim law allows a man to divorce his wife on any grounds simply by saying “I divorce you” three times. (Women have the right to initiate divorce but are discouraged from doing so by societal pressure.) An unattached woman, whether single, widowed, or divorced, has little or no social standing, so a wife banished from her husband’s home usually returns to her parents, leaving her children behind.
As long as they lack an independent means of livelihood and a broader social movement to back them up, women are likely to respond to male domination with only small acts of self-assertion. In urban areas women are more openly assertive, politically conscious, and organized, partly because of the opportunities for wage employment, albeit in low-paying jobs such as garment factory labor and street cleaning. Middle-class urban women have greater opportunities for education and careers, but they are usually employed in traditionally female occupations such as teaching and nursing. There is, however, a small but growing group of extremely well-educated and articulate professional women who are acting as a catalyst for change by helping women get educated, gain employment, and become leaders in their communities. Many organizations work specifically with women’s groups, raising awareness and providing opportunities for women to work together in starting and running their own businesses.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Although Islam was declared the state religion in 1988, freedom of religion is a legal right in Bangladesh. As the dominant religion, Islam is also the major social and cultural force in Bangladeshi society. The Koran forbids drinking alcohol, eating pork, gambling, and money lending for profit. It also lays down the rules for marriage and divorce and the penalties for crimes. Islam seems to give many Bangladeshis enormous patience in the face of extreme poverty and frequent naturaldisasters. An expression one often hears is “Inshallah,” which means “As Allah wills it, so it will be.” Most Bangladeshis view religious identity as a basic fact about a person and are likely to ask about your religion almost as frequently as they ask how many brothers and sisters you have. Many assume that all Americans are Christians, and Volunteers who are not Christian may experience some challenges. Jews in particular may encounter negative attitudes.
Although Muslims and Hindus in Bangladesh interact freely on a professional level, there are some animosities between Hindu and Muslim communities. People who are atheists or seem ambiguous about their religious identity may be regarded as foolish or morally reprehensible, as rejecting the religion one is born into is considered a serious matter. Some Volunteers without a specific religion have found calling themselves “humanist” to be a good compromise.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Bangladesh?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits.
The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these 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 80 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.
What is the electric current in Bangladesh?
It is 220 volts, so 110-volt appliances from the United States will not work without voltage converters. Converters are available locally but are quite expensive.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. You will be given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover your expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. 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.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Bangladesh do not need to get an international driver’s license because Volunteers are prohibited from operating privately owned motor vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from trains, buses, and minibuses to trucks and lots of walking. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a sponsor’s vehicle, but this can occur only with prior written permission of the country director. Should this occur, the Volunteer may obtain a local driver’s license. A U.S. driver’s license will facilitate the process, so bring it with you just in case.
What should I bring as gifts for Bangladeshi 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 not assigned to individual sites until after they have completed pre-service training. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their ministry counterparts. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions.
However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. Most Volunteers live in small towns and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a 10-to-12-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, you should 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; select option 2, then extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For nonemergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580, extension 2412 or 2414.
Can I call home from Bangladesh?
Calling home is possible in Dhaka and in some of the larger towns, but obtaining an international line can be difficult without prior planning. Low-cost calling cards for international calls are available throughout the country.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
Most cellphones manufactured for the American market do not work in Bangladesh. All Peace Corps/Bangladesh Volunteers are issued mobile telephones for use in-country. Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer? Internet service is growing rapidly, so you are likely to find a cybercafe in or near the town where you are posted. The rate for access is reasonable, usually less than $1 an hour. While dust, high humidity, and frequent power fluctuations can damage computers, a laptop could be a very useful tool. The possibility of theft is also a consideration, but crime against foreigners has not been a major problem in Bangladesh.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Bangladesh 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 an 80pound weight limit on baggage. Because you will acquire a lot of stuff during training (e.g., books, bedding, a mosquito net, and a medical kit), you should leave some space in your luggage for these items or plan to purchase an additional bag after you arrive in Bangladesh. Do not bring anything of great monetary or sentimental value, and consider obtaining insurance for valuable belongings before you leave the United States. Remember that you can get almost everything you need in Bangladesh. Cotton is the most comfortable material for clothing, including underwear, in hot and humid weather, but you may also want to bring some warmer clothes for travel (e.g., fleece). The tailors in Bangladesh will copy clothing for a reasonable price, so you might want to bring a few pictures or patterns with you. If you plan to go trekking in another country, such as Nepal or India, bring some hiking shoes or boots, preferably already broken in. Regular shoes can be purchased locally in sizes up to 9 for women and 10 for men.
- Several cotton dresses with sleeves or skirts and tops
- At least three pairs of lightweight, baggy pants
- Several loose-fitting T-shirts
- Enough cotton underwear for two years (i.e., at least eight bras and 12 pairs of underpants)
- Cotton nightgowns (can easily be made in Bangladesh)
- Two sweaters or sweatshirts and two pairs of jeans or sweatpants for colder weather
- One lightweight, waterproof jacket or poncho
- One warm jacket for the winter season and travel
- Cotton socks
- One swimsuit (not available locally)
- One outfit for formal occasions with suitable shoes
- At least three pairs of lightweight cotton pants
- Several lightweight cotton shirts, both long and short sleeved
- One pair of jeans or other durable pants
- One pair of baggy shorts
- Several cotton T-shirts
- At least 12 pairs of underpants (boxers are cooler)
- Two or three cotton undershirts, if you wear them (available locally)
- Swimming trunks
- Pajamas (if you wear them)
- Two sweaters or sweatshirts for colder weather
- One lightweight, waterproof jacket or poncho
- One warm jacket for the winter season and travel
- A jacket and tie for formal occasions with suitable shoes
- Flip-flops and sandals (slip-on sandals are good for easy removal when entering someone’s home; smaller sizes can be purchased cheaply in Bangladesh)
- Sneakers (available locally in smaller sizes)
- One pair of dress shoes for formal occasions
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- Tea tree oil (helpful for acne, cold sores, heat rash, insect bites, fungus, etc.)
- Sunscreen—although the Peace Corps medical kit con tains sunscreen, if you have sensitive skin or a favorite brand, you may want to bring some of your own
- Enough shampoo, toothpaste, etc. for your first few days in-country Kitchen
- Plastic food storage bags of all sizes (also good for pro tecting papers and other items during the rainy season)
- Sturdy water bottle (e.g., Nalgene brand, available at outdoor stores)
- Can opener
- Film (all kinds of film are available in Dhaka, but the selection outside the capital may be limited)
- Pocket-size flashlight (useful during power cuts and for travel to places without electricity)
- Tape player or Walkman (also available in Dhaka) and your favorite CDs or cassettes 85
- Batteries—rechargeable ones with a 220-volt charger are especially useful (Volunteers recommend the Rayovac charger and alkaline batteries)
- Backpack for travel
- Lightweight sleeping bag (for travel on trains and buses or in guest houses where bedding is not provided)
- A small musical instrument (not a valuable one) and music, if you play or sing (note that good-quality guitar strings are not easy to find locally and that instruments can warp in Bangladesh’s climate)
- Photos of your family and home
- Portable games like Scrabble, chess, and playing cards
- Diary or journal
- Travel guides for Bangladesh and any nearby countries you hope to visit
- Sunglasses and a sun hat
- Combination locks for your home and luggage
- Swiss army knife or Leatherman tool
- Travel alarm clock
- Money belt or pouch
- One or two large plastic containers to protect food and valuable belongings such as cameras from moisture and pests (available locally but the quality varies)
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. Passport/Travel
- 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 six-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- 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 continue 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 readjustmentallowance to pay alimony, child support, and otherdebts through the Office of Volunteer FinancialOperations 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.