Useful Technology Information and Resources for Peace Corps Senegal Invitees, Trainees and Volunteers
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Senegal and is based on their experience. Please note that it serves merely as a compilation of what is out there and available. Depending on the expectations and desires for your service, your personal level of “tech savvy-ness”, and your comfort with using your electronics in Senegal, the resources you employ will greatly vary.
Nearly every volunteer brings a computer to country and PC Senegal has a few Desktops in the Dakar office and some regional houses. In the past, PC Senegal has recommended netbooks for their portability. However, netbooks often sacrifice performance, durability and usability for portability; not to mention they are a “dead” technology and seldom produced anymore. We recommended that you bring a computer that fits your needs, is well built, and you feel comfortable traveling with. It is not necessary to purpose buy a new computer, and many volunteers use whatever they had before coming to Senegal. However, as with all electronics here, please consider how the heat, dust, moisture and generally more wear and tear lifestyle will impact your choice. If you are purpose buying a new computer, a “business” laptop aligns well with volunteer needs of toughness, portability, battery life, and cost. Examples include, Lenovo Thinkpads, MacBook Pros, Dell Latitudes, MacBook Airs. With any computer, a good case is recommended and possibly and an air tight bag to store your computer in when it's not in use.
It's worth mentioning that as tablet computers become more mainstream and readily available in America, they present a viable alternative to a laptop in Senegal. They offer many of the same features as a laptop that volunteers desire, but without as large of a price tag and more portability. However, they do lack some key features that are vital to many volunteers such as a physical keyboard and ease of word processing.
Many volunteers have large media collections that go beyond the constraints of a normal laptop hard drive. Externals are very commonplace amongst volunteers and people regularly exchange files and media with each other. Having a hard drive with some of your favorite movies, tv shows, music, e-books is a very good way to feel in-touch with American culture during your time in Senegal. It's also worth mentioning that due to copyright restrictions, services such as Hulu, Pandora, Netflix, etc do not work in Senegal. In addition to media, they are great for backing up your important files in case your computer crashes. We recommend 1TB in size which generally run around $100. Really, bring one; you'll regret it if you don't.
Very affordable, very useful. Bring at least one, maybe a few.
Peace Corps Senegal provides every volunteer with a very basic Nokia cell phone which suffices for basic communication. Some volunteers in country either replace this with a phone from America or a better phone they buy here. Today's smartphones are often wi-fi enabled, allowing volunteers to have access to the internet without carrying their computer in areas where wi-fi is available. Additionally, Orange offers pay as you go internet plans that can be activated on capable phones allowing volunteers in rural areas to be able to check email and communicate without having to make a trip to a large city. There are currently volunteers in country who use Blackberrys and iPhones. If you are going to bring a phone from the States, please be sure it will work on the Orange Senegal GSM network; you may have to “unlock” it. This is also a great way to keep your blogs up-dated, keep in contact with friends and family back home, not get overwhelmed with work e-mails when you make it to a regional house, and it allows you to know what's going on outside of Senegal. If you have the internet package, you can also connect it to your computer to use internet.
Kindles and Nooks have become very popular for volunteers for their lightweight, large capacity and long battery life. To be able to carry 100s of books in such a small device, with battery life up to 2-months, is much more practical for PCVs than carrying print copies with you. Also, it allows people to get the latest books as they are released. Many volunteers have large electronic book collections (enough to mitigate the cost of the device) that they are willing to share. Well worth the investment. You can also put PDFs on the kindle to study your language, read work documents, and a variety of other things.
As prevalent among volunteers as e-readers and often considered a necessity. Public transport in Senegal takes a long time and its nice to have something to listen to. Video iPods also allow video playback, useful for volunteers living in a village: the battery life can take you through a handful of movies or even a season of a TV series as well as wi-fi connectivity where available.
Personal preference. The majority of volunteers have general point and shoot digital cameras, but there are also those that are more photography-savvy and bring more expensive, better cameras including DSLRs. It's always nice to have a camera when you need to submit work reports, show family and friends what you're up to, and to simply record your two years.
Mixed success. Some volunteers have a simple $20 or $30 solar charger that they use as a battery. Rather than using the sun, they plug them in at the regional house and then can use them at site to charge their iPod, camera, or phone. Not a bad thing to have, but more research needs to be done in order to figure out the best buy.
It could be worth considering having the following in Senegal: Good quality/noise cancelling headphones for site, cheap travel headphones, portable speaker, ample chargers/cables, plug adapters, computer “duster” cleaner, webcam, batteries,
Again, this is just a list of the options available to volunteers in Senegal and by no means is any of it necessary. It's also worth noting that the convergence of technology renders certain things obsolete if you have another. For example, if you're going to bring your iPhone, there isn't much point bringing a iPod Touch as well. Insurance is available through Peace Corps for you to protect your electronics, but be aware you are taking the risk of damage, theft and harder use just by bringing them to Senegal.
Is a free service provided by Google that allows users to pick a US phone number and provides voicemail, SMS, and VoIP services. Google Voice accounts must be registered in the US, so it is recommended that you sign up before you come to Senegal. Using Google Voices allows you to communicate with people in America (and the rest of the World) with a US phone number when you sign in online. https://www.google.com/voice
A very handy and not well known feature of Gchat is the ability to call phones from your chat bar. It works in conjunction with you Google Voice account and calls from your US Google Voice number. Calls to the US and Canada are free, and the rates are reasonable to call the rest of the world. This service must be registered in America as well as registration is prohibited from Senegal.
Standard instant messenger service that is widely used by people with Gmail. In addition to text chat, Gchat allows users to voice and video chat as well. Volunteers online often use Gchat to stay in touch. Gchat also allows you to send free text messages around the world, including Senegal, from your email address.
Offers free video chat between skype accounts, as well as VoIP to call the US and the rest of the world for a certain rate per minute. The most widely used talk and video chat interface.
Senegal has many issues providing reliable power to much of the country, Dakar included. Villages will not have access to power, while small towns and up should be connected to the unreliable grid. Power is expensive in Senegal as it all comes from large, diesel powered “Power Barges” harbored in the port of Dakar.
Most of the communication infrastructure is controlled by Orange/Sonatel, with various smaller competitors offering similar services. The phone and sim card PC provides you with are on the Orange network. Volunteers have a small fee subtracted from their monthly allowance to provide “free” calling to all other Peace Corps phones.
Orange offers USB internet keys that run on their 3G mobile network allowing people to access the web without a fixed line. Not the best connection, but they allow you to download your e-mails and send them. Surfing the web is always a hit or miss. Once you're here, check out how well they work with other volunteers and decide if you'd like to buy one; prices range from 15,000cfa to 50,000cfa ($30-$100).
Volunteers with internet enabled handsets can access the web from their phones using the same Orange network. The prices and packages very, but for the most part are the same as those for the USB keys. Additionally, Orange offers a Blackberry App that lets Blackberry users buy either weekly or monthly packages to connect to the 3G network and get full internet functionality on their device. Unfortunately, this type of support has not yet come to the iPhone which Orange only offers post-paid monthly plans for.
Depending on your site, you may have access to the Orange/Sonatel fixed line grid allowing you to purchase a monthly DSL subscription. Prices and plans vary based on speed and usage. Additionally, all Peace Corps Offices have both Ethernet connectivity and wi-fi for volunteers to use.
In major cities and tourist destinations, wi-fi is becoming increasingly prevalent in businesses, hotels, and restaurants. For this reason, volunteers often bring their wi-fi enabled devices when travelling to large cities and spend time using the internet when there.
Cyber cafes exploded upon Senegal a few years ago and are a common site in medium sized towns on the electricity and phone grid. Prices are on an hourly basis and are affordable. You'll want to bring your own computer.
Peace Corps Senegal Volunteers are broken down in to six different sectors: Community Economic Development (CED), Health (HE), Environmental Education (EE), Sustainable Rural Agriculture (SUSAG), Urban Agriculture (UAG), and Agroforestry (AGFO). These sectors will play the biggest role in determining what IT resources will be available to you on a daily basis. However, it is important to note that no two sites are the same and it's always going to vary. Check out the brief descriptions of a "typical" site below in order to have a better idea of what you may want to bring:
Most CED volunteers live in larger, more developed areas. They typically have reliable power and can head down the street to a cyber cafe if they elect to not have internet in their room. However, approximately 20% live in smaller towns or villages where they either have limited access to power or none at all. With the work of CED volunteers, it is also important to check your e-mail quite frequently and use your computer for a variety of projects. We recommend all CED volunteers to bring a computer and portable wi-fi device like a smart phone or iTouch. Other electronics can be brought at your desire (everyone is different). Current volunteers are extremely happy to have brought the following: computer, smart phone (if you like that technology), iPod, Kindle, 1TB Hard Drive, Flash Drive, two pair of headphones, and a camera.
When it comes to HE/EE sites most are rural and some don't have electricity. Not all sites are rural, and some are located in urban centers. For those that do have electricity, it may be sporadic or unreliable. All Volunteers will have access to larger towns/urban centers with electricity so devices can be easily charged. MP3 players and computers are a must for work and pleasure. Solar chargers generally aren't recommended as they are expensive and an alternative power source is not difficult to find. Generally, a computer, external hard drive, digital camera, and MP3 player are the basic essentials. Anything on top of that is up to the person to decide. The general consensus from current volunteers is "you can pretty much bring whatever makes you happy here."
The agricultural sectors are by their nature posted in the most rural areas where Peace Corps operates. The vast majority of Agricultural sites have no access to electricity in-village, but are located within 20km of a reliable power source. It is strongly recommended that PCVs bring some form of solar charger with adapters for iPods and cell phones. That being said, you should still bring a netbook and iPod for your work. Many PCVs purchase internet keys, but this is generally not necessary for your work. Agfo PCVs in particular are encouraged to bring a GPS unit so that they can track locations of valuable seed sources in Senegal's rapidly thinning forests.