LEAF International | Rwanda

Founded in 2006 | Located in Kigali, Rwanda | 200+ Youth Served

Why Rwanda? Jean Paul Samputu performed at LEAF several times, and shared powerful stories of a group of young orphans he had worked with in his hometown of Kigali. After hearing about LEAF International, he invited LEAF to come to Rwanda to work with this group of young boys he had been mentoring. This extraordinary and complex journey began.

See the Troupe in Action

Program Overview

LIIntoreCulturalTroup17In Kinyarwanda, the word “Intore” refers to a person who is desperate and hopeless, then GIVEN HOPE by a person or event. This newfound hope gives the person strength to learn new skills, see life through new eyes, and become a better person and a leader. An Intore is a true hero.

As a result of the 1994 genocide and the AIDS epidemic, 70% of the Rwandan population is under 30. Many of those young people are orphans who lack housing and education. In 2006, LEAF International began working with 25 children who lived on the street in Rwanda, reaching out to them with traditonal drumming classes. Now years later, most of this group have grown into young men and international quality performing artists who speak English, live in a home, and are positive members of their community. It has been a long powerful extraordinary journey.  

Today, members of this original group make up the LEAF Intore Cultural Troupe. These young men receive weekly traditional drumming classes, and perform for the community. These classes and performances help to preserve Rwanda’s musical traditions.

Meet the Culture Keeper

IMG_6487Culture Keeper David Kwizera was granted Chef of the troupe at the young age of 17. His leadership skills, confidence, and ability to stay positive under intense situations have made him the ultimate teaching artist and culture keeper. For over 10 years, David has been practicing and teaching traditional Rwandan dance and drum. Within his mission, David helps to bring other street kids off the streets and into the classroom.

David’s story starts out as a child of the Rwandan genocide. With no parents to care for him, he has spent most of his life on the streets taking care of 25 other boys. Through this experience, his boys became his brothers. As they grew older, they all wanted to know more about their culture and the traditions of Rwanda. In this movement, a troupe was created and a culture keeper was born.

David’s powerful story in his own words: “My name is David Kwizera. I was born in 1989, in Gisenyi. I grew up without my parents. I was living with a older woman who I considered was my grandmother. She found me abandoned in a field. When I was 10, thieves invaded our house, took our belongings and killed my Grandmother. Left with no family, I ended up living on the streets in Gisenyi, but life on the street was tough. I ended up in Kigali where the situation was not much better. I was lucky to meet with LEAF International who have helped me get music and dance training and accommodations.”

Meet the Intore Cultural Troupe Members

Each day was a struggle for food and survival. Now the LEAF International Intore Cultural Troupe has natural LIRwandaPracticeAFeb15confidence, feel empowered, and are inspired to share their personal stories. The Troupe is currently working hard to empower other youth in their community through teaching traditional Rwandan music and cultural activities.

 “My name is Olivier Murigande and I am 20 years old. Both of my parents were killed during the 1994 genocide. My sister and I fled to Uganda. When we got there my sister became a prostitute. Five months after the end of the war, I returned to Rwanda to find our home was a wreck. I went  to live with my aunt, but after a while she died of AIDS. Having no one else to rely on, I went to live on the street. I thank LEAF International for rescuing me from the street.”

“My name is Emmanuel Nshimiyimana. I was born in 1988 in the province of Kigali City. I have one other sibling. Right after the death of my mother, I was separated from my father and my family did nothing to help me. Poverty and hunger are the reasons that I ended up living on the street. I am thankful for LEAF International, my pseudo-family that rescued me from the street.”



Through the project, students gain:

  • Weekly traditional drumming classes
  • Housing
  • Training in valuable skill development that could lead to future work in the field
  • Self-esteem and pride at keeping their traditions alive
  • Discipline skills
  • Community building through cultural arts
  • An outlet to HEAL from the genocide and tradgedies that they have lived through

“I need to teach my culture to other street kids so (when they are adults) they can have the opportunity to become a culture keeper. If I didn’t understand my culture, I wouldn’t understand my life.”

David Kwizera, LEAF International Rwanda Culture Keeper


See the LEAF Intore JUNIOR Troupe in Action

Program Overivew: LEAF Intore JUNIOR Cultural Troupe

Less than two weeks after 11 members of the LEAF Intore Cultural Troupe moved into their new home & cultural center, more than 60 curious kids were peeking through the cracks of the maroon double steel-door gate. These kids line up every day at the moment they hear the Troupe practicing.

“Mbabarira ninjire ndebe (Please let us in so we can watch),” the kids screamed at the top of their lungs. Once the gate was opened, the kids ran into the cultural center like they were in an Olympic race!

With dedication, a safe space, anxious youth, and diligent mentors, a LEAF Junior Intore Troupe was formed. The Junior Troupe is a mixture of street kids, impoverished village kids, and kids with no parents – both young boys and girls. Their excitement around learning their own culture is an intangible energy. The youth have so much pride in being Rwandan.

The opportunity to learn their culture is an extremely valuable tool and for most, the only sprinkle of enjoyment they receive in a day. Even on ‘off’ days, the kids come to the center to watch the culture keepers practice and have a break from the hardships of their day to day lives.

Currently, the Junior Troupe has more than 200 youth members and practice up to 5 times per week.

“I found Rwandan dance through the LEAF Intore Cultural Troupe. I’m a JR and proud to be representing my country.”

Katia, LEAF Intore Junior Cultural Troupe Member


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.


Want to learn more about our program in Rwanda? Click on the link below to download the 2006 site report with detailed descriptions of the program from the LEAF International team!




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Project Highlights


October 2017: Culture Keeper David Kwizera hosts a 3 day residency at Rainbow Community School. David introduced young students to the rich music and dance traditions of Eastern Africa. Students will learned basic Rwandan dance, a tradition deeply embedded in the cultural interplay between African continuity, rhythm, and acts of positive resistance that challenged oppression. Through the cultural exchange, students were invited to cultivate cross-cultural understanding and a sense of global citizenship. 

August 2017: LEAF International Rwanda launched its first LEAF ONEmic studio!

July 2017: With the success of securing a home and the start of a cultural center for the LEAF Intore Cultural Troupe, they have been practicing night and day with no limitations. The community hears their practices and the enticing rhythms of their drums. Youth in the neighborhood have shown interest and show up at the house every day for practice. Seeing an apparent connection & cultural need for youth, a LEAF Junior Intore Troupe was formed. This group is led by Culture Keeper David Kwizera and has over 80 youth.

May 2017: LEAF International Intore Cultural Troupe participated in the 44th LEAF Festival. The group did a 5-day residency (with LEAF International Tanzania) at Oakley Elementary as well as cultural exchanges at several local community centers and LEAF Schools & Streets programs.

Chief David Kwizera stayed two extra weeks with the LEAF community. During his stay, he continued to teach workshops to Asheville area youth as well have his first vacation ever!

LEAF International Tanzania & Rwanda headline the twice annual Orange Peel performance along side culture keepers Masankho Banda, Adama Dembele, Stephanie & Gregory Laforest, and Grandfather Mazatzin. This performance alone brought in a youth group of more than 460.


LEAF International Ambassador, Sarah Hipp, visited the Intore Cultural Troupe this September for a couple weeks and worked on getting passports for all the guys so that they can come to LEAF soon! One of the troupe members, Patrick, recieved his passport and visa and has been performing around the USA with his brother Pacifque. In October the brothers came and performed at LEAF and sold some of the beautiful paintings that they brought from Rwanda. With the help of Patrick and Pacifque, we are hoping to get the rest the Intore Cultural Troupe to LEAF in 2017!  




The Troupe becomes officially registered with the Ministry of Culture and Youth through the Rwanda Development Board. This process will bring many opportunities to the Intore Cultural Troupe!!
After dedicated, persistence, and a good outlook on life, Ally graduates university! Congratulations!

Daniel sent a wonderful update that he is no longer a driver but a full time musician! We are so proud of him!

LI Rwanda staff/board return to Kigali to visit Troupe and envision how the program can be strengthened. Read more about their trip HERE!
Patrick is recognized as best dancer in the country! Independence steps-3 young men are hired for good regular jobs!
Kelly Simpson says goodbye- she taught the troupe English for 3 years.

Daniel, the Troupe’s Inanga player, performs for The President’s Wife Birthday and is hired for regular concerts at local international hotels.

Several Troupe members have their first teaching experience with Star School.
Several of the Troupe Members join national troupes.


LEAF Intore Troupe does first performance at Serena Hotel Ballroom.

LEAF partners with Ivuka Arts.

Jean Paul Samputu and Mizero Children of Rwanda return to LEAF Festival. 
LI Rwanda partners with Playing for Change Foundation to pursue the dream of Intore Cultural Center.

 LI Rwanda Students move from the streets into a HOUSE thanks to help of a LEAF supporter! They name themselves LEAF Intore Cultural Troupe.

Troupe starts a football team & is first “Street Kids” to win Football Tournament!
October 2007
Jean Paul Samputu visits LEAF Festival with Mizero Children of Rwanda to showcase Rwandan traditions and promote the LI Rwanda program. Mizero continues their own international tour, making connections and telling the story of our LI Rwanda kids.

December 2006

LI Rwanda begins at the invite of international performing artist, Jean Paul Samputu.

Featured Partner

Impano Arts Center: This center provides space for artists-in-residence to explore their creative talent. Impano creates opportunities for Rwanda’s most underserved people to develop livelihoods in the creative arts through workshops, trainings and classes. Impano provides anyone the space to fuel their creative expression.

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Throughout it’s journey, LI Rwanda has had the privilege to work with many different partners. Thank you to past partners Ivuka Arts Kigali and thePlaying for Change Foundation for their support at different points along LI Rwanda’s path!

In Memory of Hamza Jeanpaul

In remembrance and honor of one of the LEAF Intore brothers who was shot in September 2009

 (pictured in the middle)

Jeanpaul’s death by a police officer brought into light the boys’ extremely vulnerable situation. The open sky parking lot where they had been sleeping on cardboard boxes for years was no longer a safe haven. “Police patrolling happens every night so the children were in constant fear,” says Volunteer Coordinator Celestin. 

About Rwanda – “The Land of One Thousand Hills”

Rwanada is the smallest country in Africa (the size of Massachusetts) with a population of 9 million. The per capita income is only $370.00 USD, and 60%  of people live below poverty line. In 1994, the country was plagued by a terrible Genocide. Over the course of 100 days (April 6-July 16, 1994) an estimated 800,000 to 1 million Tutsis and some moderate Hutus were slaughtered. More than six men, women and children were murdered every minute of every hour of every day. This killing was maintained for more than 3 months. Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the 100 days of genocide. Up to 20,000 children were born to women as a result of rape. More than 67% of women who were raped in the genocide were infected with HIV and AIDS. Over half of the children who survived the genocide stopped their schooling because of poverty.

Learn about Rwandan musical traditions here: LInat-geo-music