The Western Kenyan village of Nyawita is a dry, sparse place. In the mornings, wives tend to small plots of corn or cassava near their mud-wall homes. Husbands shepherd their few cows around, searching for patches of grass. Children attend a local school if their parents can afford to send them.
Victor Ochieng has spent almost his entire 39 years here farming corn, tomatoes, and other crops. Until recently, it was all the father of six could do to scratch out a living for his family. He wanted to buy pumps and pipes to irrigate his crops with water from his well but couldn’t afford it.
“Farming has so many challenges, and one of the biggest is that rains disappear,” he said. “I wanted to farm even during the times of drought, so I could take my crops to the market while the price is high.”
One day last year, a couple of out-of-towners showed up in his village. They walked from house to house, chatting with the locals. When the visitors, Kenyans like Ochieng, arrived at his home, they told him something astonishing: Some Americans he’d never met wanted to give him and nearly all his neighbors a fortune. Not a loan, a giveaway. With no strings attached.
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In the 19th century, foreign explorers came to Africa in search of ivory, rubber and slaves. Today, they come for Africa’s minerals — its copper, zinc and tungsten. The developed world needs them for its skyscrapers, cell phones and much in between.
The exchange is sometimes unfair. Often, African governments don’t know the value of the natural resources underground, but mining companies from the West — and, increasingly, China — do. That knowledge asymmetry has cost African countries and their citizens as much as $1.4 trillion over the past 30 years.
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But a more level playing field may be in sight, thanks to a World Bank initiative that aims to compile Africa’s mineral maps into a single, public database: the so-called Billion Dollar Map. The goal is to give African nations as much information as possible about their natural resources so that they can earn a fair price for the minerals they sell, World Bank officials say.
While mineral maps of the African continent exist, most are private or piecemeal. The Billion Dollar Map is crucially different: Its contents will be available to the public. And that, experts hope, will minimize underpricing and corruption, and help governments get a fairer price for their countries’ resources.
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One group of workers who earn a high wage and unusual benefits is helping others earn the same.
By Jacob Kushner
Founded in 2010 by the collegiate clothing supplier Knights Apparel Inc., Altagracia Apparel pays its workers a so-called living wage, calculated to be about three times the country’s minimum wage for factories in its free trade zones. Altagracia workers earn at least $500 US per month, well above the minimum wage of about $150.
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Four years since Altagracia opened its doors, the factory has become a model of what workers in the Dominican Republic dream to achieve.