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A Conversation with Shannon Robak

Why Not Now Missions is a Milwaukee Nonprofit that began in 2014 and received official nonprofit status in January 2018. Shannon Robak is the founder of the organization. We sat down and discussed all things Why Not Now Missions.

Madison: What is Why Not Now Missions' goal in the community?

Shannon Robak: Our mission is to inspire, empower, and encourage vulnerable populations to reach their full potential. We are working locally with refugees and overseas we are currently working in Nepal to help provide education to children and families who can’t afford it.

M: What do you do here in Milwaukee to support the refugees?

SR: Local refugee women from the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been upcycling plastic bags and using them to create beautifully designed handmade baskets and mats. We help facilitate opportunities to help them sell their baskets and promote awareness about the great work they are doing. We’ve been invited to some churches and farmer’s markets where we are able to sell their baskets and teach them the basics of running a business. We also host an Annual Run & Walk for Refugees in which all the proceeds benefit local refugees living in Milwaukee.

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M: How did you get connected with the refugees here in Milwaukee?

SR: I used to work in a refugee resettlement agency and that’s how I became connected with the refugee community. They are super cool people, really fun, really genuine, and I remained friends with a lot of the clients as I got to know them.

M: And how did you create the connection in Nepal?

SR: In early 2014 I was backpacking and traveling in Nepal. Through a crazy connection here in Milwaukee, I was put in touch with a family owned school in Kathmandu and they were in need of some help teaching. I, having not really worked in education before, decided to give it a shot. It turned out to be the best thing ever. I totally connected with the family, the kids at the school, and the teachers. I lived with the Grandpa of the school, who was 97 years old at the time and we were roommates for 4 months!

After the earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, I went back again to the same school and worked with the children to write about their earthquake experience, and how they were affected by it.  It originally started out as an in-class assignment to help them release their emotions and talk about such a traumatic event. My mom brought up that we should turn their stories into a book. I told the kids about this idea and they were thrilled! I then knew I HAD to do it. We were finally able to publish their stories into a book and in July 2016 my mom and I went back to Nepal to surprise each of the authors with a copy of their own book. It was a pretty special day!  I’ve created some fantastic friendships out there with the students and families and since 2014 have gone back about once a year. We now have a sponsorship program for these kids in Nepal as well in order to keep them in school.

“I think that if I’m not giving back, when people are in need, that it’s not OK,”

M: That whole trip sounds like something out of a movie, what brought you to want to help the people both in Nepal and Milwaukee?

SR: Throughout my travels, I found the people in Nepal and many of the other developing countries I was able to visit to be so kind and genuine, and at the same time some of them were lacking the opportunities they needed in order to continue to move forward. Some of them just needed extra support and access to more resources. I knew that I needed to do something. I think that if I’m not giving back when people are in need that it’s not OK. In Milwaukee, I saw that newly arrived refugees needed opportunities and help with certain things. They are very capable, but there is oftentimes a language barrier so they just need a helping hand once in awhile!

“You hear the word refugee but then you actually meet someone and you realize that they are people, who have feelings, and are mothers, fathers, and siblings,”

M: Recently in the United States there had been a lot of heat surrounding the topic of refugees and immigrants, why do you think it is important to support them?

SR: They are real people, just like us. Sometimes there are misconceptions and that’s why people can be afraid of what they don’t understand or what’s different. You hear the word refugee but then you actually meet someone and you realize that they are people, who have feelings, and are mothers, fathers, and siblings just like ourselves.

Keep an eye out for Why Not Now Missions at the Tosa Farmer’s Market on August 4th and check out: https://www.whynotnowmissions.org/

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