Dr. Ariff Kachra, the Dean for the University of Central Asia, had only a moment to meet with Naseem Jaffer during a layover at the San Francisco airport in 2015. He had heard of Naseem’s experience in preparing curricula from when she helped pilot the Ta’lim curriculum used in religious education classes, her services in analyzing and improving underperforming schools in California and Massachusetts, and her master’s degree in education with a focus on mathematics.

Dr. Kachra informed Naseem that Mawlana Hazar Imam had requested the University hold its first summer camp. Dr. Kachra requested Naseem’s assistance in preparing a mathematics assessment for the camp. The caveat—it was to be completed within 48 hours and prepared in Russian. “I remember it being Navroz,” says Naseem, “and calling in to say sorry I cannot make sukhreet for Navroz this evening.”

With the support of a member of the University of California, Berkeley to translate the material, Naseem was able to prepare the assessment. Soon after, she found herself traveling to UCA campuses in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to develop the math curricula for the university. “Curricula hangs on experiments,” explains Naseem. “I needed to find out what worked, what didn’t work.”

“It is one thing to read about the Pamir mountains, and another to see for yourself,” says Naseem. In order for her to arrive at the campus, she would travel first from California via a 13-hour flight, catch a connecting 5-hour flight thereafter, and lastly take a 13-hour drive through the Pamir mountains.

“These programs are geared towards the mountains,” Naseem says of the majors offered between the Naryn and Khorog UCA campuses – computer science, communications and media, economics and earth, and environmental science. “Coming out of the University, the students can work towards enhancing their communities. It is for the Pamir area.”

As part of Naseem’s Time and Knowledge Nazrana, Naseem’s service to UCA has been instrumental in the University’s development over the last five years through assessing student performance, consulting on professional development for teachers, and developing relevant math curricula. The University had its first graduating class in 2021. “This group is closest to my heart,” recalls Naseem, who guided the university and its students through its early stages. 

Naseem has also created a math curriculum and offered teacher training on behalf of the Aga Khan Education Board in Gujarat. The region was identified as having marginalized students, primarily Muslim children. She flew to India after her trips to Central Asia between 2016 and 2018. She developed a summer camp, similar to that instituted at UCA, which sought to teach children to read, write, and learn math, in order to be able to find a job for themselves. The teaching concepts and strategies from the camp have been integrated into the school’s daily classes.

Naseem moved to the Bay Area from Dar-es-Salam in 1972, and was one of the first Ismailis to settle there. She became very involved in seva, serving as Mukhianima for four separate terms as the Jamat transitioned from Oakland to Alameda. She also served for six years as a National ITREB member. She would cook and feed the Jamat back in 1972, and continues to do so today. Clearly, Naseem has made a tremendous impact both near and far.