In 1991, Craig Keeland, Founder & C.E.O of the CK Companies, whose mission in life was to "Lead Others To Better Health," was first made aware of the Vilcabamba Valley, which sits High in the Andes Mountains near the equator in the South American country of Ecuador, from an article written in National Geographic Magazine (Jan. 1973) by Dr. Alexander Leaf of Harvard Medical School entitled: "Search for the Oldest People." The article mentioned the Sacred Valley, thus named by the Inca Indians who used to hunt there, and its current inhabitants who per capita were the largest group of centenarians (100 year-old people) in the world. One in 64 Vilcabamban people reach this landmark age and beyond compared to the average of 1 in 100,000 in the modern world. Because of his interest in anti-aging and longevity science, Craig decided to go on an exploratory trip to Vilcabamba of his own to see first-hand what gave these people their ability to live past 100 years of age.
From the moment he first arrived in the valley, he felt the "magic" that was uniquely Vilcabamba. The air is crystal-clear and the sky is the bluest blue. The water pure and highly mineralized. The vegetation in the valley and on the mountain sides is the greenest green you'll ever see. The fruits and vegetables grown there are anti-oxidant rich. There are medicinal roots harvested there that are used by herbalist around the world. It has also been recognized as one of only 3 places in the world that was not affected by the Ice Age and has microorganisms that predate that period. Another rare phenomenon which may be related to these microorganisms is that a natural mineral chelation process takes place here as the mineral-rich waters are filtered through the vegetation-rich tundra high above the valley in a national reserve called Podocarpus National Park. The water is then channeled into the valley through springs that well-up in several locations and is also bottled from wells deep below the riverbed that runs through it. The minerals in the Vilcabamba Mineral Water are in perfect balance as specified by the USRDA for the human body. Their pristine, pollutant-free environment is another unique characteristic of the "sacred" valley. The Huilco Tree for which the valley gets its name Vilcabamba, grows so abundantly in the valley that it creates a "negative ion" environment as a by-product of its respiratory process. These negative ions cause any toxins or pollutants in the valley to rise up out of the valley. Japanese hospitals now use the Huilco Tree in their facilities and the science gained from this valley to speed-up the healing process of their patients. The people of Vilcabamba have given so much by sharing their resources with the rest of the world. Their generosity when it comes to sharing these "nutrients and science of longevity" allows them and now us to "Live Younger Longer."
The village of Vilcabamba itself is the stuff postcards and dreams are made of. Perhaps it's the small village's colonial charm, its beautiful square, quaint restaurants, spectacular views or the valley's perfect climate. People who visit the region say it is one of the most invigorating and peaceful places they have ever been. Peoples from all corners of the world have come to Vilcabamba to discover its secrets.
On Craig's first journey to Vilcabamba, he met Jaime Mendoza, a Vilcabamba hotel owner who accompanied Craig on the small 10-passenger prop plane flight from Guayaquil to Loja. During their 4 hour, 4-wheel drive Jeep ride up and over the mountain from Loja to Vilcabamba (the new highway there now had not yet been built) they discussed the needs of this unique valley which had so much to offer the world, yet its children had been given so little in the way of educational support from the government due to its remote location deep in the Andes Mountains. After Craig returned from this trip he contacted Terry Minke, long-time friend and business associate as well as Dr. Mark Pedersen, a research herbalist and product formulator to report what he had discovered, which included not only the key ingredients for advancing longevity science but the greater need for help for the beautiful children of Vilcabamba. With great effort from all four men, in 2000 the Andes Children's Foundation (ACF) was established as a means to give back to the children of a region and peoples who had given so much to the rest of the world. Jaime Mendoza was named first Director of ACF since he was a local resident in the valley and had served the needs of these children for so many years on his own. Craig Keeland, Dr. Mark Pedersen and Terry Minke all serve a Co-Founders, Directors on the Board and Trustees. Terry has taken on the additional role of Educational Mission Trip Coordinator and has been the Leader on 5 of the 6 educational mission trips to Vilcabamba in the past 10 years which included groups of friends of ACF, as well as other Co-Founders and staff from CK Companies.