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Academic Travel - Nabeel Cajee
by Kyrsten Keith '09
Nabeel Cajee '11 grew up in Stockton and was dismayed to see his city decline. By 2009 the former All-America City had high crime rates, was first in the country in home foreclosures and was listed by Forbes magazine as "America's most miserable city."
The political science major became involved in Stockton's "Libraries Change Lives" campaign, which helped him see a larger vision: "to create an enterprising, creative and culturally vibrant community for the people of Stockton and San Joaquin County."
He discovered that the Colombian city of Medellín, formerly known as "the city of eternal violence" because of its connection to drug cartels, had turned itself in a more positive direction. "Medellín turned blight into beauty," said the New York Times in 2007.
More money for education, a new masstransit system, new schools and libraries and more support for social workers and micro-credit organizations have resulted in rising employment rates, more business investment, a rise in per-capita income and new construction.
Cajee decided to travel to Medellín to see the transformation for himself. He wanted to talk to the mayor and city council members, college professors, journalists, police, library administrators and staff. A grant from Pacific Fund paid for his six-week trip, accommodations, acquisition of research materials and the cost of shipping them to Colombia, additional equipment, and development of a website where he posted his findings.
"It is a well-designed, feasible and truly challenging educational experience for an extremely bright, imaginative and self directed student," said political science Professor Gene Bigler.
Cajee carried a letter from Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston as introduction to Medellín Mayor Alonso Salazar and another letter from the administration at the Stockton San Joaquin Public Library for introductions in Colombia.
He said he wanted to gain insight into how Medellín's residents "perceive their own city's transformation" and interviewed many citizens as part of his project. He also took photographs and kept a journal for publication upon his return to Stockton. Cajee wants to sponsor an open community event of Stockton/San Joaquin stakeholders, opinion leaders, public officials and community members to encourage agreement for positive change in the area.
Cajee outlined a plan to collaborate with Pacific's Jacoby Center, the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Benerd School of Education, Stockton 2020 and other community development groups to share information. He hopes his trip will help form a working model for his own city's revitalization.
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