LEAF International | Guatemala

Located in El Tejar, Guatemala | Founded 2007 | 165 Students Served

Why Guatemala? Local NC Folk musician David LaMotte runs a small NGO in Guatemala dedicated to providing much-needed resources to underfunded schools in Guatemala. LEAF Executive Director Jennifer reached out in curiosity of, “Why not collaborate to start a music program,” and the bricks were laid for this vibrant and extensive partnership and program.

I am honored to represent Guatemala and my passion for music, using my mandolin and the marimba.

Ashley Galicia, Guatemala Student & Musician

The Program in Action!

Program Overview

LEAF International works with PEG, Child Aid, FUNDIT, and the CEDIN School in El Tejar to provide an after school music and cultural arts program. 8 classes meet twice a week, immersing students in their own cultural traditions and empowering them to pursue their talents. Classes include:

  • Marimba, Guatemala’s national instrument
  • Violin
  • Guitar
  • Percussion
  • Keyboard
  • Music Theory
  • History of Music
  • Guatemalan Rhythmic Reading

Classes are designed by teachers to not only give children a firm base in the instrument they are learning, but a firm base in the history of music and of Guatemalan culture so that they have a strong foundation to pursue a music and cultural career in the future. LEAF International funds the music teachers’ salaries and local instruments made by local artists, as well as cultural exchanges for the students and teaching artists to interact with other LEAF International programs and to perform at LEAF Festival. 

Teacher Training Program & Music Summer Camp:

In 2015, Guatemala initiated the first Teacher Training Program, whereby older students have the opportunity to take the skills they have learned and step into a leadership role as Music Teacher at a LEAF International-sponsored Music Summer Camp at a nearby school. Innovative and engaging, this program creates a multitude of positive outcomes. Older students can elect to enroll in a Teacher Training class at the beginning of the year, which focuses on giving students the leadership skills they need to guide them in the process of creating their own ‘Curriculum’ for a week-long Music Camp Immersion at the end of the year. The Student-Teachers, ranging in age from 15-18, visit a nearby school during school vacation in November, offering a free music immersion camp for students aged 6-12. The school they visit has no music program, and for the majority of the students that attend, the Music Camp represents their only opportunity year round for music instruction and music play! Each Student Teacher teachers their group a song, and at the end of the week, friends and family are invited to the End of the Week Performance, where all students have the opportunity to perform what they have learned and receive a ‘Certificate of Completion’ to take home with them. It is a way to instill mentorship and empowerment among adolescents, provide them with a unique teaching experience they can take with them in future endeavors, and for LEAF International to have a more far-reaching impact within the El Tejar community. 

Diploma Music Program:

This year, with additional funding, LEAF International was able to provide the resources for the teachers to construct a “Diploma in Music,” a program that provides a clear pathway for young students to go through the necessary training to later join one of the three Artistic Groups later on. The program has a duration of 3 years, divided up into 6 semesters, whereby students not only learn to play the musical instrument of their choice, but must pass their foundation courses, which include Music Theory, History of Music, and Guatemalan Rhythmic Reading, among others. At the end of the three years, the students are awarded with the joining of their choice of the three artistic groups; Orchestra, Marimba, or Assembly Flutes. These Artistic Groups have more flexibility with creative development, and have the opportunity to perform at schools, Embassies, and other institutions. 


The LEAF International Guatemala program has brought both tangible and intangible impacts to individuals and the community at large.

According to 2016 Surveys:

  • 50 youth served annually in year-round program, with an additional 40 at the Immersive Summer Camp
  • 100% of students believe that their LEAF International Program is having a good impact on their lives

Through the project, students gain:

  • Classes in Marimba, Guatemala’s national instrument, Mandolin, Keyboard, Violin, Recorder and Guitar
  • Percussion Skills
  • Classes in Music Theory, History of Music, and Guatemalan Rhythm Reading
  • Orchestra & Choir ensemble practice; learning how to play in a group
  • Regular performance opportunities at village concerts & regional competitions
  • Cultural exchange opportunities through LEAF International to visit other LEAF International programs and perform at LEAF Festival
  • Non-tangible skills, such as empowerment, team work, creative and critical thinking skills, leadership skills, and a sense of community
Meet a Teaching Artist

Sara Morales has been teaching for LEAF International for nine years, and currently teaches classes with her students 2 nights a week. An avid music lover and an individual proud of her Guatemalan heritage, she finds teaching for LEAF International not only a rewarding opportunity, but important work. Why? She tells us that this work is meaningful to her, 

LIGuatMarimbeweb“because art is to share and it is very important to teach our traditions to our youth so that they value and appreciate our culture. When our students perform music it gives importance to our traditions. The people in our community value the work that we do, and our students are a positive example for other young people in our community who think only foreign music has value. We are preserving our culture by passing it down to new generations. This work is important because there a fewer spaces [for our traditional culture] because of globalization.”

Meet a Student


At 16 years of age, Mario Rene Figueroa Niche dreams of being a percussionist in a large orchestra. His father is a farmer, but makes very little money. The family can’t afford school so Mario helps his father. Mario’s parents don’t see the value in obtaining an education. Sara, Mario’s percussion teacher, says he has a natural talent. She invited him to participate in the band even though he is not studying at the school. Gangs are very prominent in El Tejar, but Mario receives a sense of belonging from the music program, something positive. The band has become Mario’s passion. In his words,

“From an early age, I have had contact with marimba music because my grandfather is a marimba player (marimbista, in Spanish) and have learned to love and admire our music, but as a student in LEAF International I have found that music is universal, that speaks the same language, that unites us, that there is no border.” -Mario Niche, LEAF International Student


“Art is to share and it is very important to teach our traditions to our youth so that they value and appreciate our culture. When our students perform music it gives importance to our traditions. The people in our community value the work that we do, and our students are a positive example for other young people in our community who think only foreign music has value. We are preserving our culture by passing it down to new generations. This work is important because there a fewer spaces [for our traditional culture] because of globalization.”

Sara Morales

LEAF International Teaching Artist & Program Coordinator

Build Lightly Studio – Musica y Mas Project: The Next Evolution of LEAF International Guatemala 

Watch this fun time-lapse video of the 10-day music room project!


Support Us

From music instruments to child sponsorships, our people-centered programs depend on generous givers like you to grow and thrive. Donate today! 100% of your gift goes directly to support music and arts education programs in the country of your choosing.

LI WEB icon - Guatemala




Project Highlights


June: 7 LEAFers will take an adventure on the Guatemala Cultural Expedition this summer. This trip is being led by David LaMotte, LEAF Partner and Artist Ambassador.

May: Despite challenges with visa processes, 3 leaders from the Guatemala program came to the 48th LEAF festival and represented their country and culture with great pride. The trio completed a 5 day residency at Barnardsville Elementary, 3 community cultural exchanges, and 4 festival performances. 


LEAF International Guatemala Cultural Expeditioners embrace the traditional customs & music culture of the country.


4 Guatemalan teaching artists come to the LEAF Festival for several cultural exchanges across Asheville including Avery’s Creek Elementary, The Asheville School, and Burton Street LEAF ONEmic Studio.

LEAF International Guatemala debut their first CD at the 45th LEAF Festival. 

New Music room at the CEDIN school launched on January 21, thanks to Build Lightly Studios.

LEAF International Cultural Expedition Jan 20-25.



Older students in the Artistic Groups were invited to the Norwegian Embassy in Guatemala City to perform for government officials and share their cultural heritage. Additionally, they were able to interact with other music and cultural students from around the country. 

Pepe, a former student of the program, officially became a Teaching Artist. This is the first time a LEAF International Student has become an official Teaching Artist. He starts in 2016, teaching two classes per week.

“Diploma in Music” program is launched, providing students with an extensive, 3-year long Music Foundation Course!


4 LEAF International Guatemala participants, 3 students and 1 teacher, participated in the first ever multi-tiered cultural exchange at October LEAF. The exchange featured students from Guatemala and Haiti, and consisted of a week-long residency whereby LEAF International students taught their cultural traditions at a local school, participated in various cultural activities throughout the Asheville community, and performed at LEAF festival!

15 classes are now offered year-round at the El Tejar program. 1 of the additions this year was the implementation of a year-round Teacher Training course, allowing older students to increase their skill base from playing music to teaching music. The finale of this year-round class is the Music Camp, that has now become regular programming of the LEAF International program. In November, the Music Camp once again allowed older students stepped into a leadership role as they facilitated music classes at two local schools in El Tejar that have no cultural arts education programming. We double our outreach while empowering our older students! 


LEAF International Guatemala hosts its first annual Music Camp!! This has been a dream of both the Teaching Artists and older students for quite some time. Through the Music Camp Intensive, older students are able to step into a leadership position as they teach younger students for a week a basic introduction the music of Guatemala. The Music Camp focuses on providing cultural arts education to surrounding schools in El Tejar that have no arts education. In this way, LEAF International is able to expand its outreach and impact. 

LEAF International Guatemala hosts the first-ever LEAF International Teaching Artist Exchange, welcoming LEAF International Costa Rica Teaching Artists and Partners, Luis Porras and Alexis Rodriguez. The opportunity to connect programs to one another build a sense of solidarity and community around the programs, giving teaching artists the inspiration they need to continue doing the importance work of cultural preservation that they have dedicated their lives to.


The Musical Stars of El Tejar perform a “didactic” concert in their community; teaching children about their cultural traditions and working with them in groups!
 2 new Marimbas bought for the program- thanks PEG!


LEAF October 2012 welcomed LEAF International Guatemala kids and teachers.

Their first U.S. visit and LEAF performance- Extraordinary! Step inside the journey with David’s story:
David LaMotte’s Blog 
“Very More Awesome”

Music students perform:
Six public concerts,
Five school graduations,
Special government concert



Five students participated in music competitions in Chimaltenango. All won either first, second, or third place in their age ranges!

A graduate of the program won a trophy in a music contest playing the song Luna de Xelaju.



Parents built an addition onto the school for a music classroom.



LEAF International, Child Aid, PEG, and David LaMotte partner to launch the program.





Featured Partners


PEG Partners: PEG Partners (Proyecto par alas Escuelas Guatemaltecas) was founded by peace activist and musician David LaMotte. The non-profit organization works to improve learning environments in Guatemalan schools. PEG is composed entirely of volunteers, with all donations going 100% to projects in Guatemala. They oversee the music program at the Cedin School and provide local instruments and teaching artists.




LIGuatPEGlogo copy


Child Aid: Child Aid provides scholarships for each student to attend the Cedin School. Child Aid’s mission is to create opportunities for impoverished rural and indigenous Latin Americans through childhood literacy and education programs.









Guatemalan Culture 

Guatemala has a population of almost 6 million. Nestled in the rising Chimaltenango highlands near Antigua, EL Tejar is a rural village of 16,000 people, mostly indigenous Mayans. 21 Mayan language groups still thrive today in the country, mostly in the western highlands where the village of El Tejar lies. EL Tejar is just east of one of the most beautiful volcanic lakes in the world, Lago de Atitlan. 

Opportunity is limited and poverty is a challenge. The children of El Tejar often start working when they are as young as six years old by mixing clay for bricks. El Tejar is known for the production of candles, textiles and musical instruments. Mayan instruments include drums, made mostly from wood and tortoise shell, and maracas. Pre-Hispanic music was mostly instrumental; ceramic ceremonial flutes, ocarinas, and conch trumpets have been found in the area. Recently there has been a blending of Guatemalan and Mexican music.

For more information see the Popul Vuh, translated as “the Book of Community,” which contains mytho-historical narratives of Mayan culture in Guatemala.
Learn more about Guatemalan musical traditions here: LInat-geo-music