LEAF International | Panama

 Located in Lajero, Panama | Founded 2015 

Why Panama? Since 2007, LEAF International has worked with unwavering commitment in Panama. From 2007-2014, LEAF International partnered with a government-funded orphanage in Boquete to provide an engaging music program for these underserved children. In 2014, our Costa Rican program with the Ngäbe-Bugle First Nation planned the first-ever “Tribal Reunion” at their homeland in Panama to celebrate the 18th Anniversary of the indigenous region of the Ngäbe-Bugle.  After a powerful re-connecting with their homelands and their brethren that still live there, launching a partner program with the Ngäbe-Bugle in Panama was an obvious fit in our efforts to contribute to the preservation and revitalization of this indigenous culture!

“It is important for Alexis [Ngäbe Teaching Artist] to travel to more communities, for he is one of the only people revealing the Ngäbe culture. They have so few artists. People still feel shy or ashamed to sing or chant in their own language because they feel it is primitive. Alexis and these young artists are helping shift from the anthropologic to art. Alexis is passionate in his charge to share his culture, and his hope is through the music programs to pass the information and passion to the youth so that they will continue to carry Ngäbe culture artistically into the world.”

Luis Porras Mora

LEAF International Program Coordinator & Proyecto Jirondai Founder

Program Overview

LEAF International partners with Proyecto Jirondai to provide indigenous and First Nation communities with the support they need to preserve, revitalize, and pass their cultural traditions down to the next generation. In Panama, we work with the Ngäbe-Bugle First Nation in Lajero, Chiriquí to support elders and Cultural Keepers in teaching the youth their cultural heritage in the form of song, dance, and ancient mythology. 

The importance of this work cannot be understated. In a world where indigenous communities throughout the world are struggling to keep their traditions alive, and maintain access to their native lands, providing these communities with solidarity to keep their work thriving is necessary. Through this program, we work with one Cultural Keeper that works in the local public school in the Ngäbe-Bugle reservation to provide youth with cultural instruction after school. 


Through the project, students gain:

  • Awareness of cultural traditions, including ceremonies, song, dance, and indigenous mythology
  • Pride in their cultural heritage
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Leadership skills

Additionally, this project is about connecting the Ngäbe-Bugle communities of Costa Rica to the Ngäbe-Bugle communities of Panama. Both of these communities live on government ‘comarcas,’ the equivalent of reservations here in the US. During the 1960s, several thousand Ngäbe-Bugle individuals moved to Costa Rica out of economic necessity to work as seasonal agricultural laborers. Because of governmental regulations, these individuals are not freely allowed to cross the border and return to Panama, to visit or otherwise. Through our partnership with communities in both countries, we are able to facilitate on-going connection and the re-building of a once ancient relationship. The result? Traditions and stories that have been lost in Costa Rican communities can be reinvigorated and retaught by their fellow Panamanian communities, and a sense of solidarity and a sense of community across borders is forged. 

Meet Our Teaching Artist

Leandro Guerra is a Ngäbe-Bugle indigenous community member, local artist, and Cultural Keeper. For years, he has dedicated his life to preserving the ancient wisdom and robust cultural traditions of his people. By partnering with Leandro, LEAF International is able to provide him with a sustainable livelihood to carry on his commitment to his culture by teaching indigenous students at the local public school their cultural traditions. 


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.





Past Program: Boquete

From 2007-2014, LEAF International partnered with the government-funded orphanage, Casa Hogar Trisker, to provide music and cultural arts instruction to these underserved youth. Casa Hogar Trisker looks after 25 to 40 children of all ages from the streets of Boquete: all of which are either orphaned, abandoned by parents, or from poverty-stricken families that did not have the means to care for them. For years, LEAF International enriched the lives of these impoverished children through music: providing a safe space for these children to discover their creative capabilities, explore their personal expression, and learn about their cultural heritage. The Boquete program also included a Music Summer Camp, as well as intensive workshops in music and art. Additionally, youth had the opportunity to attend music classes at the local university, which provides scholarships for music lessons to dedicated students. The students perform at local public concerts and at the International Boquete Jazz Festival. The program was located in Boquete, in the northeastern region of Panama near the border of Costa Rica.

Through the program, students learned; 

  • Guitar, flute, keyboard skills
  • Folk dance classes
  • Vocal training
  • Experience in reading music
  • Performance skills
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Awareness of cultural traditions
  • Leadership skills and a sense of community

After a successful eight years, the Casa Hogar Trisker orphanage no longer needed the support of LEAF International to conduct enriching extracurricular activities, such as the LEAF International music program, and we re-directed our efforts towards a partnership with the Ngäbe-Bugle First Nation of Panama, an indigenous ethnic group that is committed to preserving their unique cultural heritage. Casa Hogar Trisker is still operating and running smoothly, and it was a pleasure to partner with them for so many years!


LI WEB icon - Panama


Project Highlights

November: LEAF International Panama with the Ngäbe-Bugle First Nation is officially launched in Lajero!
March: LEAF International Costa Rica | Ngäbe-Bugle members travel to Panama to visit their homelands for the first time and reconnect with their fellow Ngäbe-Bugle communities that still live there. A celebration and several performances were featured during the trip, and Teaching Artists learned from elders in the Lajero community about ancient instrument making techniques that have been lost in Costa Rica, but still thrive in Panama communities. LEAF International identified a community to partner with to launch a program with later in the year
LEAF International Panama Coordinators moving program to David, Panama
Doing “test” programs to identify best partner
Casa Hogar Trisker program finale!
LEAF International Music Camp October w/ 20 Youth 
Kids Performed at Boquete’s 15th Anniversary for Casa Hogar Trisker
LEAF International Music Saturdays
Music Fieldtrips to David
LEAF International Youth perform at Boquete Jazz Festival for 1st time
LEAF International Summer Music Camp 
[1 month-5 days week-8 classes a day]
Journey of a lifetime!
LEAF Festival October 2009
A group of Casa Hogar Trisker children, the teaching artists, and the Director of the Orphanage came to LEAF. it was the whole group’s first journey outside of Panama! They experienced cultural exchange with LEAF Schools & Streets kids for several days, and performed throughout the festival on multiple stages to hundreds of LEAFers. They were excellent and so proud! 
LEAF International 1st Summer Music Camp
LEAF International moves to Casa Hogar Trisker Orphanage
LEAF Cultural Exchange Team Visits
LEAF International Panama begins at Casa Esperanza led by Gordon Brown
Local musicians trained as teaching artists

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.


Boquete Culture

Boquete is in the northwest Chiriqui region with 20,000 residents. This area hosts the sacred Quetzal bird, revered by Latin American civilizations. The majority of the indigenous groups are the Ngobe Bugle people comprising one of the seven indigenous populations in Panama. They live in The Comarca Reserve outside of Boquete, which is a hard place to live and many suffer from hunger. Their traditional types of work are extinct. The women often make chaquiras, traditional beaded necklaces and chacaras, traditional woven shirts which are both still worn today. Many of the men work in coffee fields. Boquete is also a respite for ex-pats, and host the international Boquete Jazz Festival.