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Building cultural bridges: Craft mentors refugees

When assistant professor Marla Craft and her husband moved to Boise in 2020, one of the first things she noticed was how many refugees live in the area. As a natural nurse advocate, Craft doesn’t want language or culture to be a barrier for people’s success. “I just want to see people be happy,” she said.

Portrait of Marla Craft

So she began volunteering with the Agency for New Americans. Their mission is to help refugees through successful resettlement to the point of self-sufficiency in America. The organization offers a variety of services to do so; volunteer mentors like Craft get paired with refugees to provide guidance on culture and education, English language practice and community engagement.

The agency paired Craft with Patrick, a refugee from the Congo who came to America from a refugee camp in Tanzania. For over a year, Craft and her husband met Patrick weekly to teach him elements of American culture and language like time management and slang. They went on outings around Boise and met him frequently for meals.

“I worked on his homework with him when he first came, and the language barrier was big, but it’s evolved enormously,” Craft said. As their mentorship developed, it became clear to Craft that Patrick wasn’t the only one learning from the relationship.

“Having a friend – and I consider Patrick a friend – from a completely different culture, bringing them into your home and exposing them to your spouse and the way that you do things…it made me more empathetic, understanding and appreciative of different cultures,” she said.

Craft and her husband stand with Patrick and his brother in front of holiday lights.
Craft and her husband took Patrick (second from left) to an outing at the Botanical Gardens during the holidays.

Craft believes that being respectful of other cultures and lifestyles makes the world a better place. “Patrick makes me appreciate that ever more, just because he’s such a quality person,” she said. “It’s made me more open.”

Craft also got involved with One Refugee, an organization helping students from refugee backgrounds overcome barriers to higher education and equipping them for professional careers.

Craft offered her services – as a nurse and a Boise State professor – and participated in a panel discussion with other healthcare professionals. The event offered university students a chance to ask questions about the career field from experts like physicians, social workers and nurses.

Craft also worked with One Refugee to find job shadow placements for students. With employee shortages across the country, it’s very difficult to arrange job shadow opportunities; Craft worked her nursing network for months to coordinate an opportunity for a student to shadow a licensed practical nurse.

Craft is grateful to be able to use her nursing connections in the community to benefit refugees. She believes nurses have a unique role to play in refugee resettlement as they’re able to build trust and offer healthcare education.

“We want there to be growth between cultures, and one way that could happen with nurses being involved would be the trust element,” Craft said. “Nurses helping [them] get jobs, and understand the healthcare system and education…it would build bridges between their culture and services that we have to offer, and, hopefully, relationships.”

Craft would like to increase her volunteer connections, embedding herself more closely with refugee agencies, and hopefully mentoring more refugee youth in the future. “I’m not there yet, but I’ve made a little bit of progress,” she said.

Read more stories from Nurses Week 2023