Everyones first reaction when hearing that I'm about to move to Zambia is "Aren't you scared? Isn't it dangerous?".. And while I appreciate everyones concern for my safety, I hope to be able to dissipate some of that concern and increase your understanding of the Peace Corps, and of Zambia, as well as heighten your confidence in myself and my safety.
Here are a few facts and figures, of the overall Peace Corps safety surveys:
- 87% of volunteers feel safe or very safe where they live
- 92% usually safe or very safe where they work
- 64% usually safe or very safe while traveling
- 60% usually safe or very safe in city where Peace Corps office is located.
- Peace Corp Volunteers have reported 13,045 crime incidents over the last 10 years. Most crimes reported by PCVs are property crimes.
- Over the last 10 years, theft, burglary, and robbery have accounted for 77% of all crimes reported by Volunteers.
- Thefts include pick pocketing and stealing of property without confrontation (46% of all crimes reported).
- Robbery is the taking of property under confrontational circumstances — this includes when a weapon is present or a demand is made by the assailant (11% of all crimes reported).
- Burglary includes the unlawful entry of a Volunteer’s home. Usually, burglaries happen when the Volunteer is not home (20% of all crimes reported).
- Physical assaults accounted for 11% of all crime reported by Volunteers.
- From 2001-2010, 8.5% of incidents reported were sexual assaults. This includes, rape, attempted rape, and any other unwanted touching of the Volunteer in a sexual manner. More than two-thirds of the incidents reported were “Other Sexual Assaults,” which is defined as unwanted kissing or touching of a Volunteer. Most rapes and attempted rapes occur by friends or acquaintances.
If there is political violence or civil unrest, Peace Corps will evacuate their volunteers. Volunteers could be moved to another post, or sent home to await a new departure to a different country/program.
It's important to note that a majority of Peace Corps Volunteers serve without major incidents. The health, safety, and security of PCV's are of the highest priority of the Peace Corps.
Also, I have taken the liberty of checking the Human Rights Watch webpage, to see if anything is going on in Zambia right now. It seems one of their biggest current problems is Chinese coming into Zambia, buying land and mines, and then bringing over Chinese prisoners to work within those mines/building roads/whatever labor is needed. I have heard from others that they then just leave the prisoners there. This is becoming a problem, and the Zambian government is working to have the miners and Chinese obey the laws of Zambia. Some Zambian women who are receiving HIV treatments have/are being abused, and the Human Rights Watch website also touched on that. Otherwise, there seemed to be nothing too alarming, no red flags, and Zambia appears to be a safe country.
Zambia is a fairly healthy country to live in. Malaria is something that I could possibly encounter, but the Peace Corps will have me taking Malaria Prophylaxis throughout my tour in Zambia. Zambia has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Out of the 10 million people that live there, about 20% have HIV or AIDS. More than 75% of people with HIV/AIDS are young, sexually active adults, and children under the age of 5. Children being orphaned because of AIDS is a fairly common thing, and the alarming rise of the illness and the orphans is contributing to the countries already low life expectancy.
To get to the touchy stuff: rape is a very real thing. It does happen in Africa (as well as all over the world), and it does happen to Peace Corps Volunteers. It will not, however, happen to me. I have taken and graduated from a WAR class (Women Against Rape), as well as am taking Tactical Self-Defense. We were taught self-defense tactics that do work, and many different stories and attack scenarios were presented to us. We were attacked by men who were 2 to 3 times our size and weight; we were thrown to the ground, pinned down, and had to defend ourselves from various rape positions. These classes were extremely intense. I was pushed to the point of overwhelming emotions- terror, helplessness, frustration.. At many times while being attacked I wanted to simply give up. I had panic attacks, asthma attacks, was choked, and shed many tears. But I made it through it. And now that I've been in these circumstances, I know what to do. I know that there will be an initial moment of shock and terror, should I be attacked, but my brain will be able to settle itself and say "I've been here before. I've dealt with this." I know what 'weapons' I have throughout my body, I know how to use each of them, and I know that I will also have the element of surprise, as they probably wouldn't expect me to fight back. Although I am not a violent person, I can seriously injure, if not become lethal with, any attacker. Nobody has the right to touch me, no means no, and if they don't respect that then I have every moral and legal right and reason to protect myself in any way that I see fit. If somebody messes with me, they won't get a second chance to mess with me again. My Tactical Self-Defense class has also taught me how to deal with street attacks, knife and gun attacks, MACHETE attacks (!), pick pocketer's, and even more ground work. I am so thankful that I have participated in these classes; I have become so much more aware of my surroundings, my body, and my abilities and weaknesses. I am fully confident that I can protect myself.
Aside from that, I'm also very smart about how I present myself when in public. I know how to avoid certain situations, I know what not to do. I know not to go out alone at night, not to be intoxicated in a foreign place, or draw more attention to myself than I'll already will be. I know that the quicker I assimilate myself into the culture, the more time I take to get to know the people and places around me, the more effort I put into learning their language and cultural norms, I'll lessen the chances of being a victim. I know that making friends with community members, respected members of the villages, law enforcers of the area, etc. will also lessen the chances of something happening to me. Basically, I feel that while I can't prevent everything from happening, I have taken the precautions to protecting myself both locally and abroad, and I definitely will not be an easy target for someone to take down.
I hear I won the Peace Corps lottery by being placed in Zambia. It's one of the few countries where the original, raw mission of what the Peace Corps started out to be, is still going. All of my other friends serving through PC across the world have constant access to facebook, instagram, and other such things. They have running water and electricity. This is not what I wanted- I got what I signed up for. I wanted to be in a rural area with no amenities. I wanted to be away from constant communication. And Zambia seems like such a wonderful and beautiful place. I don't feel scared one bit about going there, I don't fear for my safety. And neither should you.