Val Pitkethly – Founder

LED founder, Val Pitkethly

LED founder, Val Pitkethly

Light Education Development (LED) was founded by Val Pitkethly in 2008. Val is amazingly energetic, focused, compassionate and resourceful.

An avid mountaineer, she has been mountain guiding since 1985 with private clients and public groups of up to twenty participants. Val has led mountain treks throughout the world including Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Tibet, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Tanzania, Kenya and Morocco.

Val specializes in high altitude trekking and has done countless high pass crossings and guided well over 250 groups on passes and peaks between 5000 and 6000 metres. Val has traversed all through the Alps, Dolomites, Rockies, Himalayas and Andes. In 2002, Val co-authored Trekking & Climbing in the Andes, which describes 26 treks and 18 climbing peaks in the Andes throughout South America. In September 2005 Val climbed Cho Oyu in the Himalayas, at 8201 metres. And in September 2009 Val and her climbing partner Helen were the first Canadians to reach the 8163 metre peak of Manaslu in Nepal.

Over the years Val has visited many mountain villages but it is the people of the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash in northern Peru and the high mountain regions of Nepal with whom she has developed a close relationship. It is to these regions she returns every year. Val employs a trusted circle of indigenous people to accompany her on her treks, and over the years this has led to mutual respect and many strong friendships. In fact, Val is now godmother to 8 children in Nepal and 9 children in Peru.

Through 1993 and 1994 Val did a twelve month Himalayan Traverse raising significant funds for the Himalayan Trust (or the Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation) and Intermediate Technology (now called Practical Action). It was during this expedition that the need for solar lights first became so apparent. And so began the seed for LED.

By the late 1990’s Val was dividing her time each year, spending about 4 months in Peru and 5 months in Nepal. Each year she was leading 8 to 10 groups, usually of 4 to 10 clients most often from countries in Europe and North America, on treks and climbs from about 5 days to 3 weeks. This brought Val and her clients in contact with many families in very remote mountainous regions. Like most mountain guides who come to work in these areas, Val often brought clothes and other useful items to leave with the poorest of families in these regions. But Val soon noticed that many of her clients also wanted to help the families they met along the way.

Initially this meant encouraging her clients to bring school supplies or clothing to distribute among the families they would meet on their trek. In 2004, Val received significant funding from The Juniper Trust to purchase solar lighting supplies to distribute in Peru, and she developed a relationship with LuxTreks, a grass roots organization that built and distributed solar lights to developing villages in third world countries. In 2004, Val received funding from a corporate office in Canada and led volunteers from LuxTreks through the Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru, where they distributed solar lights and school supplies to remote villages, including Pocpa and Pomapata, which they visited on their trek. In 2005, Val led another group of volunteers from LuxTreks to other remote villages in the Huayhuash. A doctor from Canada also happened to be in this group so Val coordinated a one day mobile medical clinic in each of the villages they visited.

Over the next several years, the momentum grew and Val continued to organize donations from friends and clients and the delivery of school supplies, solar lights and medical services to villages in northern Peru. In 2007 the Val Pitkethly Primary School was dedicated by the villagers of Quishuar in appreciation of all the school supplies, solar lights and mobile medical clinics Val had brought them in recent years.

In 2005, Val began first aid projects in Nepal, bringing basic medical and first aid kits to villages in the Manaslu region, areas beyond the delivery of normal healthcare. In 2007, Val and a private donor arranged for a local nurse to provide health services three days a week to the people of the Quishuar region in Peru, with thoughts of building a full time medical clinic by 2009.

Realizing the amount of time and money being donated to fund these projects was increasing, and wanting to ensure everything was properly managed, Light Education Development was created as a formal company in 2008, and in 2011 it became a registered charity.

Over the years Val has developed strong relationships with many of the local people in the regions where she works, who she then hires to work on her treks. Val’s crew members receive fair pay, are treated respectfully, have excellent working conditions and work with high quality supplies. As there are so many job opportunities within the tourist industry, Val encourages her crew members to learn and practice their English, and she provides them with medical and guiding training to improve their qualifications, which in turn will lead to better opportunities for them in the future. In Peru, Val has worked since 1985 with the Bedon family, a close network of siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. In Nepal, Val has worked with a number of local porters for many years.