LEAF International | Guatemala

Located in Tejar, Guatemala | Founded 2007 | 165 Students 6-18 Served

Why Guatemala? Local NC Folk musician David LaMotte had started an excellent reading program 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.

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David LaMotte - LEAF Festival (Oct 2012)

The music program makes a profound impact on these children’s lives. Coming to school a couple hours a day to play music is what these children look forward too. And parents donated whatever possible to make this happen! Now that is inspiration!

Celeste Dunn

LI Ambassador

Project Overview

LEAF International works with Child Aid and the CEDIN School in Gautemala, a FUNDIT-sponsored Montessori preschool. Through this project, an extra-curricular music program meets at the CEDIN School, who allow LEAF International to use their space after school. 15 classes are offered each week that immerse students in their own cultural traditions and empower them to pursue their talents. The music teachers work with around 105 preschool students and 55 primary and middle school students. Students are introduced to rhythm, music theory, singing, musical instruments, and dance. LEAF International funds the music teachers’ salaries and local instruments made by local artists.


In 2012, a group of young musicians from this program, ages 11 to 18, left their village in Guatemala for the first time to give an inspiring performance at the Fall LEAF festival. Scroll down to the bottom of this page to read more about this life-changing visit!


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

According to 2013 Surveys:

  • 165 preschool to middle school youth served annually
  • 100% of students believe that their LI Program is having a good impact on their lives

Through the project, students gain:

  • Classes in Marimba, Guatemala’s national instrument, Mandolin, Keyboard, Recorder and Guitar
  • Percussion Skills
  • Orchestra & Choir ensemble practice; learning how to play in a group
  • Regular performance opportunities at village concerts & regional competitions
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 LI 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, LI Student, 2013


The Program in Action!

LEAF Fall 2012: Guatemalan Children’s Choir


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.

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Project Highlights


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


Four 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.

Fall 2013
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.


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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