Friday, January 14, 2011

Uganda Family Letter

Dear Prospective Volunteer:
Please give this letter to your family and ask them to hold on to it for as long
as you are in Uganda.

January 12, 2011

Dear Families,

Greetings from the Uganda Desk in Washington, D.C. It is with great pleasure that I welcome your family member to Peace Corps. During the past year I have received many requests from Volunteers and family members alike regarding travel plans, sending money, relaying messages and mail, etc. As I am unable to involve myself in the personal arrangements of Volunteers, I would like to offer you advice and assistance in advance by providing specific examples of situations and how I suggest they be handled.

Irregular Communication
The mail service in Uganda is not as efficient as the U.S. Postal Service. Thus, it is important to be patient. It can take four to six weeks for mail coming from the United States to arrive in the Uganda. From a Volunteer's site, mail might take 1-2 months to reach the United States. Sometimes mail is hand carried to the States by a traveler and then mailed through the U.S. postal system. However, these types of trips are infrequent and are often dependent on timing and the proximity of Volunteers’ sites to one another.

I suggest that in your first letters, you ask your Volunteer family member to give an estimate of how long it takes for him/her to receive your letters and then try to establish a predictable pattern of how often you will write to each other. Also, try numbering your letters so that the Volunteer knows if he/she has missed one. Postcards should be sent in envelopes—otherwise they may be found on the wall of the local post office!

Volunteers often enjoy telling their "war" stories when they write home. Letters might describe recent illnesses, lack of good food, isolation, etc. While the subject matter is good reading material, it is often misinterpreted on the home front. Please do not assume that if your family member has been ill that he or she has been unattended. Peace Corps has three Medical Officers on staff in Uganda. Through regular contact, they monitor the health of the Volunteers. In the event of a serious illness, the Volunteer comes to Kampala and is cared for by our medical staff.  If the Volunteer requires medical care that is not available in Uganda, he/she will be medically evacuated to Kenya, South Africa, or the United States, depending on the medical care required. Fortunately, these are rare circumstances and our Medical Officers are superb!

If, for some reason, your communication pattern is broken and you do not hear from your family member for three months, you should contact the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps Washington at 1-800-424-8580, extension 1470. OSS will then contact the Peace Corps Director and ask her/him to check up on the Volunteer. Also, in the case of an emergency at home (death in the family, sudden illness, etc.), please do not hesitate to call OSS immediately so that the Volunteer will be informed as soon as possible.

Email Access and Telephone Calls
E-mail access is very limited in some areas and sometimes non existent. Volunteers may have email access as little as once a month, or even once every two months.

The telephone system in Uganda is relatively good. Service to the United States is somewhat reliable, phones exist in larger towns, and Volunteers can often plan to be at a phone on a certain date to receive calls from home. This usually works, but there are also innumerable factors that can make the best-laid plans fall apart. Once your Volunteer is in-country, he or she can update you on telephone availability and provide you with his or her specific contact information and logistics. Many Volunteers in Uganda purchase cell phones and are able to receive calls from the United States. It may require them to walk 10 minutes to the nearest hill to get better reception, but Volunteers generally find them to be reliable and useful throughout Uganda.

The Uganda Desk calls the Peace Corps office in Kampala once every two weeks. However, these calls are reserved for business only and we cannot relay personal messages over the phone.  All communication between family members and the Volunteer must be done via international mail, or via communication arranged between PCV and family via personal phones, e-mail, and the like.

Sending mail during Pre Service Training (PST)

Your name, Peace Corps Trainee
P.O. Box 29348
Kampala, Uganda

Mail after PST should be sent to each individual Volunteer’s PO Box at his or her assigned site, which he or she should communicate to you after settling in to his or her assigned site.

Sending packages
Both parents and Volunteers like to send and receive care packages through the mail.  Unfortunately, sending packages can be a frustrating experience for all involved due to the possible theft and heavy customs taxes. You may want to try to send inexpensive items through the mail, but there is no guarantee that these items will arrive. We do not recommend, however, that costly items be sent through the mail. Once a Volunteer has sworn in and has been placed at their site, they should forward you their mailing address at their new site. Please do not continue to send packages/mail to the following address after Pre-service Training.

John Doe, PCV
U.S. Peace Corps
P.O. Box 29348
Kampala, Uganda

We recommend that packages be sent in padded envelopes if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more frequently. Sending airplane tickets and/or cash is not recommended. Several services such as DHL, FedEx, UPS do operate in Uganda, but can be very expensive. Certain airlines will allow you to buy a pre-paid ticket in the States; they will telex their Nairobi office to have the ticket ready. Unfortunately, this system is not always reliable. Several European carriers fly to Kampala. Please call the airline of your choice for more information. You could also send tickets via mail services as mentioned previously. However, Peace Corps will assume no liability in the event of a lost/stolen airline ticket.

Trying to send cash or checks is very risky and is discouraged. If your Volunteer family member requests money from you, it is his/her responsibility to arrange for its receipt. There is Western Union service available in Kampala, although there are many charges involved in the sending and exchange of money. Bear in mind that Volunteers will be aware of people visiting the States and can request that they call the Volunteers' families when they arrive in the States should airline tickets or cash need to be sent back to Uganda.

I hope this information is helpful to you during the time your family member is serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda. I understand how frustrating communication difficulties can be when your family member is overseas and I appreciate your using this information as a guide.  Please feel free to contact me at the Uganda Desk in Washington, D.C. if you have any further questions. My phone number is 1-800-424-8580, ext. 2323 or locally, 202-692-2323.


Patrick Koster, Desk Officer

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