Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Family Information Letter

Hi All!!

So I am finalizing my preparations to leave.  I will be in Washington DC for staging for 2 days (Feb 27-28) then flying to Johannesburg on the 29th and finally arriving in Mada March 1.

The following is a letter sent by my peace corps desk that I am suppose to give my family.  I am printing out copies for my immediate family, but I would like to share all of this with you as well.  There are some useful websites for learning more, as well as mail advice.

Less than 3 weeks!


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

Dear Families,

Greetings from the Madagascar Desk in Washington, DC!  It is with great pleasure that we welcome your family member to the Peace Corps/Madagascar 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 Country Director has asked for us to emphasize the importance of communicating your concerns with us, the Madagascar Desk at Peace Corps/Washington, rather than with staff in Madagascar.  This is critically important for a host of reasons.  Madagascar currently has approximately 128 volunteers.  The in-country staff’s primary responsibility is the care and well being of your family member.  However, the Peace Corps/Madagascar office does not have the capacity to assist family members who call seeking information.  The Peace Corps/Madagascar office is in direct and frequent contact with the Madagascar Desk, especially during emergency situations such as cyclones.  We, the Madagascar Desk, are well equipped to take your questions and talk about your concerns. 

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 Madagascar during their preparation for service and throughout their service of two years.   This is also a great time for you to learn more about Madagascar, which may alleviate some of your concerns.  For instance, Madagascar is a huge country (the fourth largest island in the world).

Below are a few links to get you started in your discovery:

·    The Peace Corps Madagacar website - http://madagascar-dev.peacecorps.gov/
·    Peace Corps Madagascar Volunteer Website  - http://pcmada.web.officelive.com/default.aspx
·    The World Factbook – Madagascar: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ma.html
·    Cortez Travel and Expeditions: http://www.air-mad.com/
·    The Living Edens –Madagascar: http://www.pbs.org/edens/madagascar/ 
·    Wild Madagascar- http://www.wildmadagascar.org/

1.  Irregular Communication.   (Please see #3 for the mailing address to Peace Corps' office in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar)  The mail service in Madagascar 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 Antananarivo to arrive in the United States via the Malagasy 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.  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 Antananarivo, 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 they have missed one.  Postcards should be sent in envelopes – otherwise they may be found on the wall of the local post office!  Ironically, mail service can speed up a bit once a volunteer is at site and they will be sending you their specific site address after six weeks of training. 

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 Peace Corps medical officers at the Peace Corps office in Antananarivo.  In the event of a serious illness, the volunteer is sent to Antananarivo and cared for by our medical staff.  If the volunteer requires medical care that is not available in Madagascar he/she 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 Counseling and Outreach Unit (COU) at Peace Corps Washington at 1-800-424-8580, extension 1470.  The Counseling and Outreach Unit will then contact the Peace Corps Director in Antananarivo 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. Use the above number during regular business hours (9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday).  After hours, or during weekends, the Peace Corps Duty Officer may be reached at the same number, (202) 692-1470. 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 Madagascar is relatively good and service in and out of Antananarivo to the United States is fairly reliable.  In the interior of the country, where most of the volunteers are located, service is sometimes sporadic.  Typically, volunteers plan to be in larger towns on a certain date to receive calls from home. This can usually work, but there are also innumerable factors that can make the best-laid plans fall apart. 

Please be aware that the Peace Corps staff in Antananarivo and Washington are not able to assist in arranging these 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 Madagascar Desk is in regular communication with the Peace Corps office in Antananarivo. 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 take at a minimum 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:
                                                Name,” PCV
                                                Bureau du Corps de la Paix
                                                B.P. 12091
                                                Poste Zoom Ankorondrano
                                                Antananarivo 101

For lightweight, but important or time sensitive items (e.g. airline tickets), we would recommend using an express mail service.  Fedex is one possibility and other courier services may operate in Antananarivo.  We would advise you to shop around to find the best prices and service options.

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

“Name,” PCV
c/o U.S. Peace Corps Madagascar
Villa les Lierres
Lot IIk76, Lot Bonnet Invandry

(You’ll also need to include the Peace Corps/Madagascar phone number: 261-20-224-3820).

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. Western Union may be a better option for sending money.

We hope this information is helpful to you during the time your family member is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar. 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 Madagascar Desk in Washington, D.C. if you have any further questions.  You may reach us at 1-800-424-8580, ext. 2326 or ext. 2366, or locally at 202-692-2326 or 202-692-2366.

Kelly Daly
Country Desk Officer
1-800-424-8580, ext. 2326 or 202-692-2326

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

Fax (202) 692-2301


  1. Sarah! I finally found your blog - hooray! Thanks for sharing all of this info with us... so interesting. We'll miss you a ton here, but I look forward to following your time in Madagascar through this blog. Love you! :)