Voices from Altagracia: Living Wage is Transforming the Community


Guest Blog Post by Ketti Wilhelm.

Greetings from Villa Altagracia.  I’ve spent the last several days interviewing Alta Gracia workers about how working there has impacted their lives.  I’ve heard many moving stories of workers reuniting with their families.  Finally being able to afford simple, long needed surgeries and for the first time in their lives not having to fear abuse from bosses and supervisors everyday at work.  But what really struck a chord with me were the purely practical stories of the economic reverberations the Alta Gracia living wage has had in the community.  

I had expected to hear about the effect on the entire community of the workers’ increased purchasing power, but what really impressed me was Clary Santana’s story of how she started her own business.  After saving part of her Alta Gracia salary for less than a year, Clary and her husband had enough capital to open their own Laundromat--a goal they had been unable to achieve when Clary was earning minimum wage, (about US $0.83 an hour) at her previous factory job.  It’s amazing what an extra $2 an hour can do for people here - it doesn’t just provide a more comfortable life, it actually allows families and communities to become self sufficient.  By opening up these kinds of opportunities to workers, Alta Gracia is proving itself to be a real player in generating sustainable, community based, economic development, which is so important (and often so lacking) in developing nations like the Dominican Republic. 

As consumers, we have real power to stimulate development that is sustainable, if we focus on the most basic fact of our consumerist world: people buying things, instead of focusing on “being charitable.”  And people are not going to stop buying things.  So instead of making international development into a chore, the Alta Gracia business model builds development into consumerism, which is not a passing fad, as simple charity so often becomes.


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