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Dear Malawi Trainee: Please Give This Letter To Your Family...

...and ask them to hold on to it for as long as you are in Malawi.

Dear Families,

Greetings from the Malawi Desk in Washington, D.C. It is with great pleasure that we welcome your family member to the Peace Corps/Malawi training program. During the past year we have received many questions from Volunteers and family members regarding communication, mail, and travel plans. As we are unable to involve ourselves in the personal arrangements of Volunteers, we would like to offer you advice and assistance in advance by providing specific examples of situations and how we suggest you handle them. Peace Corps service certainly impacts more than just the trainee and we hope that this information will help ease some of the uncertainty which affects the families of Volunteers.

The Peace Corps experience can be an exciting, intimidating, and amazing experience for both the Volunteer and family. The Volunteers will learn a lot about Malawi during their preparation for service and throughout their service of two years. This is also a great time for you to learn more about Malawi, which may alleviate some of your concerns.

Below are a few links to get you started in your discovery:
The World Factbook – Malawi: http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/mi.html
The Lonely Planet: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/africa/malawi/
The Malawi Nation newspaper: http://www.nationmw.net/
Friends of Malawi: http://www.friendsofmalawi.org/

1. Irregular Communication. (Please see #3 for the mailing address to Peace Corps' office in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi) The mail service in Malawi is not as efficient as the U.S. Postal Service; thus, it is important to be patient and understanding. It can take three to four weeks for mail coming from Lilongwe to arrive in the United States via the Malawi postal system. From a Volunteer's site, mail might take 1-2 months to reach the United States. Sometimes mail is hand carried to the United States by a traveler and mailed through the U.S. postal system (Volunteers should bring some US ‘forever’ stamps). This leg of the trip can take another several weeks as it is also dependent on the frequency of travelers to the U.S. There is a truism that you may wish to embrace as uncomfortable as it is, “No news, is good news!”

On average, it takes approximately four weeks for letters mailed from the United States to reach Lilongwe, and may take an additional six weeks to reach the Volunteer’s site. We suggest that in your first letters, you ask your Volunteer family member to give an estimate of how long it takes 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 they have missed one. Postcards should be sent in envelopes – otherwise they may be found on the wall of the local post office! By the end of the Volunteer’s Pre-Service Training they will be able to send you their specific site address.

For the first 9 weeks in country, your family member will be living in a village near the training site (about one hour drive south of Lilongwe) and participating in an intensive, immersion style training program where they will begin to learn language, cultural and technical skills necessary to be a safe and productive Peace Corps Volunteer. During this time, they will NOT have access to email/Internet but can certainly receive and send letters. Receiving mail during this intense period is most welcome and appreciated. Once they are sworn-in as Volunteers, they will have access to the Peace Corps computers in the office and can reestablish email communication. However, you must remember that NO Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi has daily or even weekly access to email so you should have limited expectations as to immediate replies to any emails you will be sending.

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. Further, given the lag time in communication by the time you receive certain news, weeks if not months have passed and the Volunteer has moved past a particularly sad moment when they miss you, or that specific illness, and don’t understand why it is that you are so concerned anymore! There are two extremely competent Peace Corps medical doctors at the Peace Corps office in Lilongwe. In the event of a serious illness, the Volunteer is sent to Lilongwe and cared for by our medical staff. If the Volunteer requires medical care that is not available in Malawi s/he will be medically evacuated to Pretoria, South Africa or the United States. Fortunately, these are rare circumstances.

If for some reason your normal communication pattern is broken and you do not hear from your family member for an abnormal amount of time, you may want to contact the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps Washington at 1-800-692-1470. The Office of Special Services will then contact the Peace Corps Director in Lilongwe and ask him to check up on the Volunteer. Also, in the case of an emergency at home (death in the family, critical illness, etc.), please do not hesitate to call OSS immediately, so that we can inform the Volunteer. Tell the operator your name, telephone number, and the nature of the emergency, and the Duty Officer will call you back.

2. Telephone Calls. The telephone system in Malawi is relatively good and service in and out of Lilongwe to the United States is fairly reliable. In the interior of the country, where most of the Volunteers are located, there are fewer phones and service is more sporadic. Your Volunteer family member, however, will undoubtedly buy or bring a GSM cell phone for use while they are here in Malawi. Cell service is quite good, reliable, and available in most parts of the country. Some Volunteers may have to climb a small hill or walk a distance from their home, but it is a far cry from having to travel several hours or days to get to a working phone as it once did. Volunteers will mostly use text messaging in country, and you may be able to send and receive messages with them.

Please be aware that the Peace Corps staff in Lilongwe and Washington are not able to assist in arranging calls. Your family member will be able to inform you of the actual telephone numbers once they arrive in-country and to their site. The Malawi Desk is in regular communication with the Peace Corps office in Lilongwe. However, this communication is reserved for business only and we cannot relay personal messages. All communication between family members and the Volunteer should be done via international mail, e-mail, or phone calls.

3. Sending packages. Family members and Volunteers like to send and receive care packages through the mail. Please be advised that packages can often take 1-2 months, but sometimes as long as 4-6 months. Unfortunately, sending packages can be a frustrating experience for all involved due to the high incidence of theft and heavy customs taxes. You may want to try sending inexpensive items through the mail, though there is no guarantee that these items will arrive. We do not recommend sending costly items through the mail. It is recommended that packages be sent in padded envelopes if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more heavily. Even though many Volunteers choose to get local post office boxes, you may always use the following address to send letters and/or packages to your family member:


Brittany Krake, PCV
PEACE CORPS/MALAWI
BOX 208
LILONGWE
MALAWI

For lightweight, but important or time sensitive items (e.g. airline tickets), we would recommend using an express mail service. DHL is one possibility and other courier services may operate in Lilongwe. For more information about DHL, please call their toll free number, 1-800-CALL-DHL, or visit their web site at www.dhl.com. We advise you to shop around to find the best prices and service options.


If you choose to send items through DHL, you must address the package to:

Brittany Krake, PCV
c/o U. S. Peace Corps Malawi
AREA 4 PLOT 70
ACROSS FROM OILCOM DEPOT
LILONGWE
MALAWI

(You’ll also need to include the Peace Corps/Malawi phone number: 265-1-757-157).

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 receipt of it.

We hope this information is helpful to you during the time your family member is serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi. We understand how frustrating it can be to communicate with your family member overseas and we appreciate your using this information as a guideline. Please feel free to contact us at the Malawi Desk in Washington, D.C. if you have any further questions. You may reach us at 1-800-424-8580, ext. 2331 or 2332, or locally, 202-692-2331 (2332).

Sincerely,



Seana Lammers, Acting Country Desk Officer

Peace Corps
Malawi Country Desk
1111 20th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20526

Phone: (800) 424-8580 ext. 2332 or (202) 692-2332
Fax (202) 692-2301
E-mail: Malawi@peacecorps.gov

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