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. These boys are now men and have moved on to new journeys in life. However, this extraordinary path has led to a phenomenal culture keeper & culture center that supports more than 200 youth in the Kacyiru district. This group of youth are known as the LEAF JR Troupe.

“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 JR Troupe in Action
Program Overivew: LEAF JR Troupe

Less than two weeks after Culture Keeper David Kwizera returned to Rwanda from Asheville, a LEAF Intore cultural center was created. 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 drums playing.

“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 Troupe was formed. The JR 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.

Meet the Culture Keeper

LEAF International Culture Keeper David Kwizera was named Chief of the LEAF Intore Troupe at the young age of 17. His leadership skills, confidence, and ability to stay positive during intense situations have made him the ultimate Teaching Artist and Culture Keeper. For over 12 years, David has been learning, practicing, and teaching traditional Rwandan dance and drum. In 2017, he became a Culture Keeper and leader. It has been an extraordinary journey, and now it is time for him to shine beyond his borders.

David’s story starts out as a child of the Rwandan genocide. With no parents to care for him as of 7 years old, he bonded with a group of boys and they became his brothers. In 2006, a Rwandan world musician Jean Paul Samputu connected LEAF to David & his group of boys; however, it was a surprise to LEAF to discover they were living on the streets in an uncovered parking lot. LEAF created a program hiring a Ballet of Rwanda performer as a teacher, having local drums made, and engaging a local man to serve as a mentor and coordinator.

David and his boys needed everything; But, they started by going to weekly classes because they wanted to know more about their culture and the traditions of Rwanda. Over the years, LEAF was able to provide resources for housing, English lessons, and various other learning opportunities. As a result, a troupe was created and a Culture Keeper born. David’s mission is to help bring other street kids off the streets and into the classroom. Over the past year, David led the creation of a Cultural Arts Center in Rwanda where he and other members of the troupe serve as Teaching Artists to over 200 young street kids every day. Through his work, David Kwizera embodies his mission while gracefully defining resilience, artistic leadership, and hope for new pathways in life through music and art. 

Meet the Teaching Artist

Claude Nyandwi is an international dance teacher with an extensive background as a performer in the Rwandan National Ballet. His passion for dance is superb and has taken him all across the world. Claude is the leader in Inganzo Ngali, the national Kinyarwandan Dance troupe of Rwanda. Claude has been working with LEAF for more than 2 years and helps to teach the LEAF Rwanda JR Troupe along side culture keeper David Kwizera.


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

Watch culture keeper David Kwizera with Ganga Giri & Odyssey Community School at May 2018 Festival!

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

Katia, LEAF Junior Troupe Member

History - From the Beginning

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 traditional drumming classes. Now years later, this group have grown into young men and have move forward in their life.

Today, these members have passed their torches to the next generation – the LEAF Intore JR Troupe composed of more than 200 ambitious youth.



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


Culture keeper, David Kwizera, traveled to Zambia for a site visit & cross-cultural exchange. The trip served as a discovery expedition to uncover the cultural preservation needs in the small village of Chishi located near Serenje in Northern Zambia.


March: The JR Troupe opened once again for the Tour Du Rwanda concert series, wowing the crowd with a combination of traditional dances and chants.

The JR Troupe has performed 6 times since January, proving the need and interest of cultural preservation in their community.


January: Culture Keeper David Kwizera travels to Arusha, Tanzania for a culturally rich exchange with LEAF International Tanzanian culture keeper, studio engineer, & youth!

February: Culture Keeper David Kwizera partners with LEAF Schools & Streets as a substitute teaching artist for Adama Dembele. David Kwizera leads cultural exchanges at several locations in Asheville including Burton Street ONEmic Studio, Christine Avery Center, Valley Springs Middle, Bell Elementary, Fernleaf, and a 3-day residency at Odyssey Community School. These cultural exchanges lead to dynamic performances at the 46th LEAF Festival.

The LEAF Rwanda JR Troupe makes their grand debut on the main-stage of the Tour Du Rwanda concert series with more than 15,000 people in attendance.


October: 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: LEAF International Rwanda launched its first LEAF ONEmic studio!

July: 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 JR Troupe was formed. This group is led by Culture Keeper David Kwizera and has over 80 youth.

May: LEAF International Culture Keepers 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, received 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