Dunia Shaba talks passionately of her love of education, born out of experience living in Iraq while working under United States Army General David Patraeus in Iraq from 2005-2009. The former Department of Defense contractor is now running for El Cajon City Council.
“I’ve been all over the Middle East, United Arab Emirates, Doha and when I came here it hit me. El Cajon has become nothing but Chaldeans from small villages. I have nothing against my own culture but I have a lot of agendas with the Chaldean community,” Shaba said.
If elected, she said she would like to improve communication with Chaldean residents and would prioritize education as a means to improve all El Cajon residents’ lives.
The 45-year old said she helped establish the first American school in Iraq and worked to implement anti-drug programs on campuses there.
Since returning home to El Cajon in 2009, the Valhalla High School graduate said she has consistently volunteered at Naranca and Anza elementary schools to actively remain involved in local schools while working toward her Doctorate in higher education management and leadership at North Central University.
“When I go and knock on doors now to tell people I’m running for city council, I tell them about my education, that I’m proud of myself as a single parent working 16 hours a day and finishing two Masters and a Ph.D that is all but dissertation, surviving wars in Iraq. I’m proud of myself,” Shaba said.
In addition to community education, Shaba said she would also like to focus on homelessness in El Cajon, in part because she used to work as a domestic violence advocate and has experience with many homeless shelters.
“First of all, it’s not just the homelessness, it’s the drugs and homelessness that need to be looked at together. Second, a big problem we’re facing with the homeless is that shelters can be scary, especially now with the COVID pandemic,” Shaba said.
She also believes rent is simply too high in El Cajon and would like to see the city address affordable housing needs.
“The housing waiting list for Section 8 housing is going on fifteen years now and that’s ridiculous. We have senior citizens, single parents, all just waiting for a home,” Shaba said.
According to the county of San Diego, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher is a federally funded and locally administered program that may help pay the rent for low-income families, however people may remain on the waiting list for 10 or more years.
Shaba said more funding isn’t necessarily the answer, however she would like to see better regulation of funding, not just with housing but also with economic recovery as the city emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to educating residents through webinars and community outreach on better use of masking and distancing as a means to reduce the spread of the virus, she also believes small business owners need to be better regulated so they can begin to open doors and boost the local economy.
“Some of the businesses could probably be reopened but aren’t because collecting unemployment is better— again, it’s a scam, it’s an Employment Development Department scam. We need to make sure funding goes to those who need it,” Shaba said.
She proposed one-on-one assessments of local businesses to determine potential for reopening.
She believes the government is partially responsible for protecting residents, from safeguarding against fraudulent spending to policing the community.
“With the current Black Lives Matters protests, I’m pro-movement but I don’t want to distinguish Black from white; there’s discrimination everywhere but to single out Black people having a movement for themselves is wrong. At the same time, I believe there are a lot of officers here in El Cajon that go through a two-year police academy— remember, you’re talking to someone who also went through police academy— and they need further training on discrimination, as well as ongoing education,” Shaba said.
She said there should be ongoing reassessment of available community services to make sure the system is functional and ensure funding is being best spent where most needed.
Shaba takes the same practical approach to her campaign, says she is running a very low-budget campaign.
“In Iraq, people grab money from people, buy their voice. Here, I thought I’m going to do it the right way, knock on doors and make sure people know who I am. Even wearing a mask, talking to people, I’ve found so many people who realized I was really concerned about them,” Shaba said. She says Iraq is beautiful, “anthropologists can spend their life there” but El Cajon is home and she sees how much it has changed over the past decade.
The last priority on her list, if elected: work to make sure residents are educated, but also happy.