Peace Corps Volunteer Gift Ideas

Written by Jen Rowley, TEFL 64.

Hey there, all you lovely people who are looking for a few holiday gift ideas that special Peace Corps Volunteer stuck out in the middle of nowhere. You might be sending them a gift, or they may be coming home for the holidays. So, where do you start? How do you know what to get them? Some people are in huts, and some are in apartment complexes in downtown areas.

Through a year in Peace Corps I’ve had some good times and some hard times. Some of the gifts sent to me have gotten me through the good and the bad, so let me open my treasure chest of goodies and share what others have sent me. Almost all Peace Corps Volunteers would appreciate receiving these gifts world-wide. Enjoy!

1. Hand held mini-flashlight. Waterproof if possible. Sure you might have this app on your phone but what happens with the power goes out and your phone isn’t charged? Something that can be tucked away in your backpack for safekeeping or something that wouldn’t be too difficult to juggle when you’re making the dangerous trek to your latrine at 2 AM.

2. Ocean-breeze-mint-sea-grass-fresh linen-whatever other scent you can think of candle. Ok, so I just compiled a bunch of my favorite scents and then put candle at the end of it…but you could probably find something like the above in Bath and Body Works. You don’t need electricity for candles, so when the power goes out (like it does every day) your friend will have a beautiful scented candle to light that makes them think of you. Make sure you know their smell-preferences before you buy said candle, of course.

3. Portable, rechargeable mini-speakers. Out of all the things I have brought to Nicaragua, this is the thing I use most. My best friend Rachel bought them for me as a going away gift and I think about her every time I use them. We listen to English music and pronunciation clips in class, then I go home a happy camper and I can listen to my music, again, even if the power’s out…because I charged it the night before when we did have electricity, naturally. I’m happy, my students are happy, my profe is happy; it’s all a good time. I believe she found the one she gave me at Walmart for $30. It looks a little bit like an accordion, you can get them in white or black, and the lights in the middle change colors, it has an aux cord. I charge mine roughly once every month and use it daily.

4. Travel sized scented bug spray. My location in Nicaragua requires a lot of bug spray. I spray up at least four times a day. When I forget my bug spray the mosquitos wreak havoc on my body. Now I never forget because my uncle sent me a handheld “fresh breeze” scented bug spray bottle. It’s a convenience that makes me much less distracted during my night-time-mosquito-eating-hour-English community class. Who wants dengue? You? NO? How about Malaria? Tampoco? Great.

5. Travel sized antibiotic anti-itch cream. My uncle sent me a container roughly the size of a marker. It’s perfect. I use it all the time when the mosquitoes DO get through the “fresh breeze” wall of defense. Once I was hiking with the clever and witty Charleen J. Stoever herself and after slipping and almost falling into jellyfish infested waters we blotted her scraped up elbows with the aforementioned magic pen. No dengue, no infected wounds.

6. Ear plugs with a case. As some folks who live in the countryside know, roosters don’t only crow when it’s dawn. They have one job; crow when dawn arrives, and they can’t seem to do that. Every single baby in the neighborhood also takes turns to make sure I can’t get my beauty sleep. I think they have a final cry signal that prompts the next little baby to start wailing because the one before is all tuckered out. Then the dogs bring in the base with their constant howling and barking all night. Solution: ear plugs. The case is also important because you don’t want to be fishing around your backpack for the second tiny ear plug when you wanted to be in bed and asleep half an hour ago.

7. Eye mask. See “ear plugs with a case.” Both can be found at Target for a minimal price.

8. Hand painted/drawn original pieces of artwork from friends. Next time they send you a letter, tell them to draw you something so you can put it up in your room. It’s nice to personalize things because so few things in that country are actually yours. A drawing takes up no space, no weight, and reminds you of the good people back at home. In the Peace Corps sometimes we worry our friends and family have forgotten us. Internet is slow and hard to come by, and sometimes your own letters back home get lost on the long and obstacle-ridden postal journey. We take comfort in being reminded that you’re all still there for us when we get back and are thinking of us

9. A digital wrist watch. I’m working with a TIMEX 1440 Sports watch that my friend Matt graciously gave to me before I left. It’s outlasted all my other watches, it has a stop watch, it tells you the date and what day it is, it has an extra function where you can track what time it is elsewhere, such as the states. It has a little light when you’re trying to check the time in the dark. It has an alarm. Its waterproof, I run and swim with it all the time. It’s brilliant. If your friend already has a watch such as this, buy them a bracelet to spruce it up!

10. Expo markers. This really only applies to teachers and volunteers using whiteboards. Our markers here in Nicaragua dry out just about every two weeks if you’re using them every day. Do your teacher friend a favor and save them a few trips to the school supplies location (I can’t even say convenient stores, it’s just not what we’re working with here), and get them some nice teacher materials. My best friend Rachel sent me Expo markers and they’ve been working for 3 months straight. WHAT. On the note of school supplies, students also love getting little stickers in their notebooks for a job well done. Those are pretty cheap and light-weight to send too.

11. A GOOD PLANNER. For those of us that need to keep track of a thousand different community events, birthdays, Peace Corps functions, and school events months in advance, it’s really nice to have a planner. I’m not talking just any planner. I’m talking a section for contacts, a section for notes, a two year planner if possible, something that won’t rot in the smothering heat, a planner where you can see the full week on two pages of paper. Something small. But…we don’t ask much. I recommend shopping at Barnes & Noble if there is one around your area.

12. Quick Dry/Pack Towel. If your PCV doesn’t already have one of these, they don’t know what they’re missing. These are small, thin towels that dry “quickly” (and who would have thought based on the name). A lot of times we PCVs are living out of our backpacks and our suitcases. We’re always on the go. It’s nice for travel purposes. The brand is called PackTowl and you can various sizes of towels on Amazon.

13. Kindle Paperwhite. So this might be a gift Grandma gives or something they get before they leave. I wouldn’t recommend sending Kindles in a package to a foreign country in general. I was hesitant to get a Kindle because as a bookworm I like the smell, feel and texture of books. I like leafing through the pages and staring at the cover. However my life has been made a lot easier with a Kindle abroad. You load up when you have internet and you’re set for a few months with thousands of books that you can carry around in one little electronic pad. Battery life is up to14 hours. It’s tiny. I recommend the Paperwhite with 3G-make sure the region your PCV is going to is covered by the Kindle 3G network, there’s a map on Amazon.

14. Postcards, printed pictures, and Christmas cards. Because we want to know about what you’re doing too, that’s why. We also have a tendency to forget how good you all look, so a little reminder wouldn’t hurt.

15. Mandalas and colored pencils. I’m not talking just the classic 12 color set of colored pencils, I’m talking all the “tickle me pinks” and “fresh new grass greens” you can think of. Mandalas are adult coloring books, and apparently are all the rage in the big US of A. Well they’re making big moves here, too. My mom sent me a giant book of black and white mosaic designs that are sure to keep you busy for hours if that’s what you want. It gives me a reason to visit my old host family and I can bond with my neighbor’s children by working on coloring books. They make for great gifts too. Also, when rainy season hits, virtually no one goes to school because the streets are flooded, which means a lot of downtime, so why not do a mandala and light that sweet scented candle? I recommend Creative Haven Mandalas.


17. Inspirational quote book. One of my best friends, Alexa DeVita, sent me a book titled the “Book of Hope.” It has hundreds of sage quotes ranging from the topics of love, despair, happiness, and above all; hope. We all want reassurance that we’re doing good things and it’s all going to be ok in the end, I know it helped me in a difficult situation or two.

18. Scented body wash. Because even though you sweat like a pig all day you’d like to smell good for at least half an hour.

19. That “oh this made me think of you” thing. Rachel once sent me a little pendant that said “courage” on one side and it had the image of a sand dollar on the other. I knew she got it while she was visiting the beachy and lovely Door County in Wisconsin. She wrote me a not about how she saw this pendant in the store and it made her think of me. It was one thing that she thought of me on her vacation, but it’s another to buy the pendant, bring it back and ship it to Nicaragua and write the whole note out. I knew she went through a lot of effort, time and money to send the things I have received from her so far. Know that your PCV will always always appreciate things like that, even if they don’t say it. Those are the things that truly mean the most.

20. Money. Plain and simple, we enjoy talking with Jefferson, Lincoln, but most of all, B. Franklin. Some PCVs, myself included, have incredibly kind and thoughtful family and friends who deposit a little bit of extra cash in our American accounts right around our birthdays or Christmas. When PCVs hit the “one year” mark they generally get together and celebrate, another time where it would be great to send some extra cash their way. Remember it doesn’t have to be a big donation (but we would gladly accept a big one, of course). Just remember that the USD generally goes a long way where we are.

Disclaimer 1: With all this being said, our postal system can be a little sketchy. Too many of my friends have not gotten packages their loved ones have sent, most likely because they were stopped at customs or someone stole the package. Remember it’s a possibility the packages will be lost in translation, so don’t send anything too valuable or that cannot be replaced for safety purposes.

Disclaimer 2: As I have only experienced one country via Peace Corps I would take my recommendations with a grain of salt. I come from a place and sector where mosquito repellant and Expo markers are highly coveted, and that might not necessarily be the same exact situation for your particular PCV. I recommend doing a little bit of research into the location and needs of your PCV before sending them 40 lbs. of chocolate…or you could simply send that to me and know that you’ve made one volunteer in the world an extremely happy camper. I hope you have enjoyed this list of gift ideas for Peace Corps Volunteers!


Photo by Pixabay user blickpixel.


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