LEAF International | Costa Rica

 Located in The Bribri & Ngabe First Nations | Founded 2013 | 30+ youth served ages 8-22

What do we do at LEAF International? Check out this Trailer to our Documentary that highlights the work we do in collaboration with Proyecto Jirondai among the Bribri and Ngabe First Nations!

To view the full length documentary, click here!

Bribri First Nation

 Founded August 2013 | Located in Talamanca, Costa Rica

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“Human diversity brings new answers to old problems, and there is no doubt that ancient traditions carry wisdom and answers to our lives today.”

Luis Porras

Founder of Proyecto Jirondai, LI Coordinator, Proyecto Jirondai

Program Overview: Bribri First Nation

In 2013, LEAF International teamed up with Proyecto Jirondai to support the preservation and revitalization of ancient Bribri music, art and language traditions in the mountainous region of Talamanca in southern Costa Rica.

The culture and language of the First Nations in Costa Rica has been marginalized: 2+ generations haven’t been learning their native traditions and ways of being. Currently, 90% of all linguistics diversity in the Americas have disappeared or are in the process of disappearing. UNESCO predicts that all native languages will disappear in this century.

LEAF International Costa Rica will support and empower the Bribri First Nation to revitalize their cultural tradition. The Bribri connect to their gods, their elders and each other through singing. By singing, they express a variety of stories and actions.

Meeting 3 times a week, youth in the Bribri First Nation will learn ancient Bribri traditions of drum making, drumming and singing. The community also has a very progressive radio station and recording studio that has been in existence for many years. With use of the radio, the Bribri share their music and recordings of ancient songs with the rest of the country. This ability is empowering to them.


The Impact

Through the project students gain:

  • Musical skills in learning songs from their elders 
  • Mentoring from teachers in the community 
  • Drum-making skills
  • Performance opportunities in the community 
  • Increased self-esteem and pride knowing their traditions 
  • Awareness of cultural traditions
Meet a Teaching Artist

LICostaBriJairoSmile Jairo Sanchez  is president of the Bribri village. He learned to make drums from his grandfather, and is married to Dgna, the daughter of a shaman. The shaman is a very important member in Bribri society representing both law and medicine. Jairo and his wife have one son, Manual, who is 13 yrs. He is the only instrument maker in the area, and both makes the traditional instruments for the program and also teaches the Bribri drumming techniques to students. It is believed by the Bribri that the spirit of the Woodpecker was the original maker of the drum. Jairo depicts this sacred maker of the drum, the woodpecker, on his drums. 

In the words of Jairo:

“Before this program, I was teaching once in a while. Now, we are thinking on even having a place based on traditional structure to teach! I feel like I am making a positive difference in my community through this program because it is like building a bridge between the young and the elders. Teaching cultural traditions is important to the community, because it is part of identity and reinforces our self-esteem.”

Ngäbe First Nation

Founded in August 2013 | Located in La Casona, Costa Rica

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“Teaching music has become a new way of speaking to people. It has opened new channels of telling the people we are here and we have a culture.”

Alexis Rodriguez

LI Teaching Artist, Ngäbe First Nation

Program Overview: Ngabe First Nation

In La Casona,The people of the Ngäbe First Nation live on a comarca, roughly translated to “reservation,” where indigenous groups have LICR-Alexisandkidexclusive land rights and some autonomy.The Ngäbe people have lost much of their culture due to colonization and globalization. This is particularly true for the Ngäbe that currently live in Costa Rica; originally, the Ngäbe are from Panama, and those that now live in Costa Rica have been separated to some extent from their cultural roots. Due to this loss of culture, certain indigenous knowledge surrounding the making of traditional instruments, the remembrance of songs, and the lineage of some dialects are all disappearing. Here, LEAF International Costa Rica is supporting the Centro de Cultura Ngäbe, founded by community member and musician, Alexis Rodriguez. 

The partnership with Alexis will provide much needed support to a man who was already working to preserve and link kids to local culture. Alexis is translating three languages: the ancient language of Bukle, the more traditional language of Ngäbe (or Ngäbere), and Spanish. Alexis teaches ancient stories, painting exceptional illustrations to go with the stories for the kids. As well, he teaches these children the different traditional dances and songs of the Ngäbe people. 


The Impact

Through the program students gain 

  • Traditional music classes
  • Lessons in ancient stories and culture of elders in the community 
  • Indigenous language skills
  • Performance opportunities in the community, and throughout Costa Rica
  • Awareness and preservation of cultural traditions 
  • Regaining control over life that has been lost decades
Meet a Teaching Artist


Alexis Rodriguez learned music and Ngäbe traditions from his mother who lived near the frontier. While he speaks Spanish, he think in Ngäbe. He is a band member of Proyecto Jirondai with Jirondai founder and LI Coordinator, Luis Porras. The band uses world music fusion to combine ancient traditions and the voices of the elders with contemporary music to bring awareness to indigenous culture and the voices of marginalized peoples. The band also uses visuals to explain the songs for those who don’t speak their indigenous languages.

When LEAF International first met Alexis, we found that he was already doing the work that LEAF International engages in, but with little resources, and without any support or recognition for his work. It was apparent that Alexis is a respected leader in the Ngäbe community, and is dedicated to bringing back Ngäbe culture back to the youth.

In the words of Alexis:

“We started our school underneath roped poles covered with garbage bags. But the students still came, and with the help of allies and hard work we were able to build the beautiful school you see now. Yet this is just the beginning…As every day the Ngäbe people are losing their language and traditions. It is my life work to continue these traditions and find new ways to expand this work. As our unique culture and way of life is the most important thing we can ever hope to offer the world.”

“LEAF gives us eyes and a voice to a greater world…A world that doesn’t know the song and story of my people. Our hope is for people to recognize the gifts we have to offer, so we receive more opportunities to expand and share our music and culture.”

Jairo Sanchez Porras

LI Teaching Artist, Bribri First Nation

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Project Highlights
October 2014
With a formal invitation from the vice-president, children from both the Ngabe and Bribri programs perform at the presidential house of Costa Rica. What an honor!
September 2014
Kids from Alto Laguna, Ngabe, won 1st place on their area at the National Sutdents Arts Festival, an annual festival organized by the Minister of Education. Good job!
June 2014
5 LEAFers, including a videographer, travel to Costa Rica to visit the programs in both La Casona and Talamanca. They connect, share and learn, while also collecting footage for LEAF International documentation efforts.

August 2013

LEAF Staff travel to Costa Rica to launch programs in Talamanca and La Casona. The trip is a big success! All involved are inspired to preserve indigenous culture and traditions of the two First Nations.


January 2013

Greg Lucas dreams of this project. Greg and LEAF vision a viable way to launch a LEAF International program in Costa Rica.


Our Partner

Proyecto Jirondai works to preserve Central American indigenous chants through research, education, and dissemniation. Using art and technology to preserve the intangible human heritage through the knowledge and respect of human diversity, the orgnanization records indigenous song and oral traditions in the field, helps to produce CDs and provides concerts to let these voices be heard by local and global audiences–promoting knowledge and respect of ancient cultures. 

Through their work, Proyecto Jirondai is preserving languages that are at the risk of extinction.  An advocate for the preservation of indigenous culture, and the founder of Proyecto Jirondai, Luis Porras, serves as LEAF International’s Program Coordinator in Costa Rica. Together, we are providing support systems for these indigenous communities to continue to thrive.



Our low-cost, high-impact programs need your support. Donate today, and provide a community with the resources they need to sustain their cultural arts education program.


Our Partners

The vision from Greg Lucas of this project and the generous grant funding from the Dan Lucas Memorial Fund made it possible for LEAF international to launch LI Costa Rica and expand LEAF’s depth of programming in Latin America. The generous grant provided $10,000 to begin the collaboration with Proyecto Jirondai budgeted to purchase instruments, provide administrative support for LEAF International, travel expenses, teaching artists and documentation. The grant is scheduled to provide support for the program for 3 years.
Funds from the Ben Gradison Memorial Fund were designed for audio equipment to support a One-Mic studio project. Proyecto Jirondai has created a One-Mic type program called Houses of Memory, or Casa de la Memoria. LEAF supports these efforts with funding from the Ben Gradison Foundation gifts. These efforts reflect the work for which Ben held so much passion.

About our Program, and our Partner, Proyecto Jirondai

The Culture of the First Nations in Costa Rica
The Bribri: Talamanca is very difficult to get to; it is an isolated area. There is no way to get there except to attempt to forge the powerful river or catch a dug out canoe across. Then traverse, in a Banana Truck, the nicely kept gravel road for 20 minutes to the main town. The few vehicles in Amubri, even the buses and banana trucks, were brought over carefully using many dugout canoes. In Talamanca there are 1,000 families, and in Amubri there are 100 families. Their self respect and pride is reflected in the cleanliness of their land and homes. The homes are simple, yet very nice. Agriculture is the main activity of the Bribri and because of their intense isolation; they have developed an extensive bartering system. The Bribri are matriarchal. They consider themselves “seeds”, and the Keepers of Seed – one of these being the Cacao Seed. Cacao is the sacred plant. They eat and drink chocolate. Corn is also sacred. The Bribri have so many sacred places, including one mountain where they consider creation started.
The Ngäbe: La Casona suffers from a loss of culture.The Ngäbe experience much adversity including poverty and malnutrition due to crop shortage, low levels of secondary education, alcoholism, loss of culture, loss of sacred lands and burial groundsThere are no work sources in La Casona. For work people must go to San Vito or harvesting operations. In their belief system, the sloth is sacred, and the Sloth was holding the structure of the universe. Here, Ngäbe is the current language and is spelled many different ways-  but Bukle is the ancient language.