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Wakangay Santi, the Young Indigenous Kichwa Woman from the Ecuadorian Amazon who Inspires through her Community Business

August 9, 2023

Wakangay Santi, a young indigenous woman aged 17, lives in the small community of Amazanga in the province of Pastaza, Ecuador. She is part of a family whose history is deeply rooted in protecting Mother Earth and the collective knowledge passed down through the generations. Wakangay Santi and Verónica Guatatuca represent their community and are part of the WIPO Training, Mentoring and Matchmaking Program on IP for Women Entrepreneurs from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru 2022-2023 (the Andean WEP).

Wakangay Santi. (Photos: Nara Santi & Tamia Santi)

Wakangay is part of a community that her grandfather founded 27 years ago. Despite challenges, her community has remained strong and united, fostering a spirit of collective resilience that has enabled them to overcome obstacles and keep their cultural identity alive.

Wakangay was raised by a loving and supportive single mother who worked in tourism and made handicrafts alongside other women in the community. What started as a tourism business transformed over time into a group of craftswomen who create beautiful and meaningful pieces. Through art, these women found a safe space to express their emotions, share stories and mutually support each other in difficult times.

From left to right: Rosa Santi, Verónica Guatatuca, Carmen Santi, Nara Santi, Ximena Santi, and Maritza Yankuam. (Photo: Jordy Santi)

The women decided to form a group of artisans in which they expressed their feelings, told stories and laughed together while they made their crafts. Sometimes, if one woman was sad, she would talk, she would tell everyone and together they could help each other.

Wakangay Santi

Having recently graduated from high school, Wakangay dreams of continuing her studies. Although she has not had the opportunity to go to university yet, she would like to work in international relations or languages. However, due to certain circumstances, she is considering studying communication in her province. Her perseverance and fighting spirit push her to find solutions in order to continue growing and learning.

Wakangay is a born leader and she decided to take the initiative and revive the community business in Amazanga, which she had to do from scratch because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Verónica and Wakangay have succeeded in bringing together more women and young people who are interested in keeping the artisanal tradition alive. Wakangay explains that, by sitting with their aunts and grandmothers, she and Verónica were able to learn the techniques to make jewelry using designs that are characteristic of their community. Currently, along with other women from Amazanga, they make beautiful necklaces, bracelets, earrings and hair accessories by hand with beads, seeds and feathers. The pieces are full of bright colors and symbolism that reflect the women’s love for the land and their culture.

In addition to creating art, Wakangay has actively participated in community and collective indigenous youth initiatives at the local and national level. These spaces have enriched her journey, enabling her to exchange knowledge with young people from different regions who share her desire to create and promote initiatives that benefit their communities and that strengthen new generations’ connection to their roots.

During the Andean WEP, Wakangay had the opportunity to meet other indigenous women from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. At this meeting, they shared their challenges and experiences, which enabled them to learn from each other and strengthen their bonds of solidarity.

Participants of 2022-2023 Andean WEP.
(Photo: Sara Fuentes)

I could feel the warmth of all the women (of the Andean WEP), even though I had never met them before. I knew that we had something in common, like our histories, which had enabled us to be there. I was the youngest in the group, but it was not the age difference that mattered, but rather how we learned to relate to one another and to connect stories and experiences. It was an experience that I had never had before.

Wakangay Santi

The Andean WEP not only provided Wakangay and Veronica with practical IP knowledge but also enabled them to create a proposal for a business model and an IP strategy for their community business.  They also acquired tools to present their community business simply and effectively through digital media and storytelling.

From left to right: Carmen Santi, Rosa Santi, Lucila Vargas, Lady Antun, Ximena Santi and Nara Santi. (Photo: Wakangay Santi)

Thanks to the Andean WEP, Wakangay and Veronica have also received support from a mentor with extensive experience in IP and business, which has been key to developing their community business. Alongside this mentor, they are working to establish a collective mark and to introduce their products on the market, all while preserving the love and symbolism behind each piece that they make.

Wakangay Santi and Verónica Guatatuca. (Photo: Fernando Nogales)

Wakangay’s dream is to continue growing and to see how women and young people become involved in her community business, thereby keeping the artisanal tradition alive and preserving their ancestors’ knowledge. She is an example of resilience and leadership, demonstrating that by loving what she does and connecting to her roots, she found a way to contribute to and benefit her community. Her dedication and perseverance are an appeal to keep cultural identity alive and to continue fighting for a fairer and more equal world.