Introducing Juan Giraldo of Waku

Today’s Culture with Travel interview is with travel entrepreneur, Juan Giraldo, the founder of Waku. Learn how a road trip in Southern Ecuador became the catalyst for starting a socially-conscious company. 

What inspired the creation of Waku? 

Six months ago, my co-founder Nicolás Estrella and I, Juan Giraldo, went on a road trip to the Southern part of Ecuador. We visited a small village in the middle of the Andes Mountains called Chuquiribamba where we met Don Miguel Tambo, a local independent farmer.

Don Miguel introduced us to a traditional herbal infusion known as “el agua que cura,” which translates as “the healing water,” a drink that has been brewed and consumed for centuries in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. It’s delicious! “The healing water” is a refreshing tea-like drink with a fruity and aromatic taste, accented with a hint of lime.

The drink is called “the healing water” because of its healthy properties. This beverage is ubiquitous in this region of the country, as almost everyone there drinks it every day.

Photo by Waku. The “healing water” brewing process.

While this experience was amazing, we were shocked to learn just how difficult the life of an Ecuadorian farmer is. They struggle to make a living by growing the medicinal herbs used in “the healing water,” but they only earn $1.25 a day because they lack the means to get their products out to bigger markets.

This income is simply not enough to sustain their families, so many farmers are being forced to leave the countryside and move to cities to hopefully find better opportunities. If this migration continues, the tradition of cultivating herbs and brewing “the healing water” will disappear.

Photo by Wanku. Waku’s co-founder Nicolás with Doña María, Don Miguel’s wife.

That is why we started Waku. We believe that “the healing water” is something that should be shared with the world, and by creating a fair-trade value chain around its ingredients, we can help Ecuadorian farmers improve their income, thereby helping to preserve their traditions.

We asked Don Miguel to teach us how to prepare “the healing water,” and told him our idea of sharing this tradition with the world, and the positive impact this could have for him and the community of Chuquiribamba.

Don Miguel was more than happy to share his recipe with us because he told us that he and everyone in his community are hard working people that only want better opportunities. He said that he would be thrilled to become our first supplier of the medicinal herbs required to produce “the healing water.”

So, we developed Waku based on the traditional “healing water” recipe, with little tweaks in the amount of sugar to make it even healthier. Our ingredients are organic, non-GMO, and sourced directly from independent Ecuadorian farmers at fair trade prices.

Tell us more about the healthy drink. What makes it so unique?

Photo credit: Waku
Waku was developed based on the traditional recipe of “the healing water” from the Andes Mountains. Click To Tweet

It is a delicious herbal infusion made up with a blend of more than 20 medicinal herbs and aromatic flowers that naturally soothes the body and helps the digestive system.

“The healing water” has been revered for centuries in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador for having great digestive and anti-stress properties. 15 of the plants used for Waku have analgesic properties, 13 help the digestive system, 12 are anti-inflammatory, and 10 can help with stomach aches. This is why WanKu is great for your gut health – drinking it will naturally soothe your body and will help your digestive system.

How do you work with Andean families and independent farmers to bring the drink to market?

drink Wanku
Image credit: Wanku

Currently, independent farmers in Chuquiribamba face one main problem: due to the small volume of produce grown by each farmer, they don’t have the means of transportation to get their products to a large market, forcing them to work with middlemen that pay them a tenth of the market price for their products.

Right now, we are buying the herbs and flowers needed to produce WanKu directly from farmers at fair trade prices, cutting out the middlemen. But we realize this is not enough to make a real impact on the farmers’ lives.

We are looking for getting more funds in order to help farmers set up a small agricultural cooperative facility, also known as a farmers’ co-op. This will allow farmers to pool their resources in order to acquire machinery and build a collection center for their crops. Moreover, the farmers’ co-op will allow them to transport their products directly to market, eliminating the middlemen and increasing their income.

This means that farmers will be able to increase their incomes in a sustainable way, and they will not depend solely on Waku to buy their products, as they will have the means to thrive by themselves.

What do you love about the culture of Ecuador that makes it so special?

Photo by Wanku
Photo taken by Waku.

The cultural heritage of indigenous people is fantastic! Their ancestral traditions, regarding foods, drinks, music, dance, art in general.

Besides our culture, I love Ecuador biodiversity. It’s fantastic how you can go from the Amazon jungle, cross the Andes mountains and get to the beautiful Pacific beaches in less than a 7 hours drive!

Why do you personally love to travel? Share a story with us of a trip that left an impact.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to live and study abroad several times both in Europe and the United States. I understood early in life that getting to know different people enrich myself of different perspectives. Travels help develop self-awareness, compassion and make you humble. And, most importantly, get you friends all over the world!

As a travel entrepreneur, what mark are you hoping to leave on the world?

cofounders of Wanku
Waku co-founders Nicolás Estrella and Juan Giraldo.

Life is all about sharing! All my experiences abroad and my immersions in other cultures have helped me grow. I want to do the exact same thing with Waku – introduce people to an ancient culture from the Andes Mountains and share with them the amazing traditions we have in Ecuador.

I truly believe in market-driven solutions for social problems, and the legacy we want to leave is proof that businesses can be built consciously. Click To Tweet

Waku just launched a fundraising campaign today! Support them there if you like what they’re up to! And, follow their adventures on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter

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