Nestled at the foot of a string of majestic mountains, so tall their tops are wreathed in clouds and mist, lies a long, green valley that used to be a part of the ancient silk road, a trading route from China to the West. Noorani Barkat grew up here in the Baltistan region of Pakistan, running down the high mountain paths, helping her family with chores, watching her mother struggle to make ends meet in the high mountain valley. When she had the opportunity, she was able to go to school in the United States, and is currently finishing a Ph.D in agriculture at Washington State University.
Noorani loves to talk about her family and her background and is passionate about education. “Everyone has to go through a specific journey, a specific struggle. For me this struggle was getting an education. Luckily, I had parents who were supportive of this dream, and believed that I could do it.”
Noorani spoke at the International Women of Mountains Conference in 2015, and then at the Commision on the Status of Women in 2018, discussing the status of education for women and girls in Pakistan, and advocating for increased educational opportunities, especially for those in the area she calls home.
“Whenever I go back I get involved with the youth—I encourage them, and let them know what is possible. Those are the things I did not have growing up. If we know what is possible, we can achieve it. I know the importance of somebody telling you, never give up!” Although she is busy finishing her degree, she still tries to be active in advocating for education. “I know I cannot do a lot, but doing something is better than doing nothing, so that is what I am trying to do.”
Noorani enjoys working on projects that help empower youth—especially girls— increase the role of women in agriculture, and educate others about the importance of diversity and education.
“For those in our area, agriculture is important, but we have to move past the way things have always been done. Research is important. Seeking for new knowledge is important. We need to look for new ways to do things that empower women, girls, and families. When I went to school and started studying agriculture, there were many people who asked me, why agriculture? You could be a doctor, you could be a lawyer, why are you studying this? But at the end of the day, we want to come home, and we want to eat a good meal. We want to have healthy food. That is what we are struggling for.”
Noorani chose to study agriculture with the goal of helping farmers not only in her own community, but worldwide, believing that everyone can have a part in reducing hunger by improving the quality of produce, providing better markets and opportunities for people to sell their produce locally, and investing in good agricultural policies. She also wants to be able to invest in her community, and help make education possible for others. She said, “One of the things I want to do is connect to people in different communities, so that we can help one another. One of the beautiful things I have learned is that when women support women, the impact is much larger than we can even imagine. In a lot of ways we are doing the same as our mothers did—feeding our families and helping to support our communities. We are just finding new ways to do it.”