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Josephine Murphy and Jocelyne Alexandre are two women with a determination to improve the lives of children and families in Rwanda. Born of Rwandan parents in a refugee village in the late 70’s in Burundi, and having first-hand experience of living in poverty, they bring a unique perspective and a focused approach towards helping others. 

Their strength to be a positive force in the lives of others came from their mother, Sumwiza Césarie. After realizing that living in the refugee village would not allow her children to have a future, she implored her husband to leave the camp. He would not go, so she took matters into her own hands. She moved her family of ten children to the capital of Burundi determined to give them a better life. Life was tough, as they lived in a one room house with little clothing and went hungry most of the time.

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However, their mother taught them about compassion and caring as she helped other orphan children, by feeding them and taking them in. She continues to do that to this day, by working with the children of Rwanda and Shelter Them on a volunteer basis. Growing up, the girls were aware that they were Rwandan and wanted to return home to Rwanda from Burundi. However, the event of the 1990’s made it difficult.

They experienced the effects of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis as their aunt and her children were murdered. They witnessed the terror first hand as the cleansing had also spilled over to Burundi. It was common to hear gunshots and to see dead people in the streets. On one occasion, the girls were in a bus going to choir practice and they were assaulted by people who threatened to boil them in oil because they were Tutsi. After Rwanda was liberated by the army in 1994, the girls and their family wanted to move back home as soon as possible. When they returned, they found a different country, with death and destruction all around them. However, they were determined to make a better life for themselves.

The girls visited Canada in 1997 as part of a church choir group. Exhibiting incredible courage, they left the group and asked the Canadian government for asylum, which was granted. They started their new life. n 2005, Jo and Jo decided to go back home to Rwanda to visit family. During that visit, they saw hundreds of children desperate for help. They were heartbroken to see children on the streets begging for food and water. At that moment, they realized that they were blessed beyond belief and that they needed to do something to help.

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After research about how to work with international charities, they formed Shelter Them Poverty Relief in 2006 and began the charitable work of supporting children and families in Rwanda.

Jo and Jo are examples of regular people who choose to do extraordinary things. They have no training in the area of non-profits or charitable organizations, but what they have is a burning desire and passion for service.

While Jo and Jo devote large amounts of effort towards the work of Shelter Them, they are also regular people leading normal, busy lives. Josephine Murphy is a single mother and lives in Ontario with her two children, Joshua and Abegail. She works to improve the lives of Blind and Deaf-blind children at the Ministry of Education.

Jocelyne Alexandre also lives in Ontario with her husband Michael and their daughter Aliyah. After few years at Nestle Canada Jocelyne decided to stay home with her daughter and work full time for Shelter Them.