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
In 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
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 10 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 this 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.
The boys needed everything; however, they started 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 Intore Cultural Troupe Members
Each day was a struggle for food and survival. Now the LEAF International Intore Cultural Troupe has natural confidence, 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
- 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
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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 Junior Intore Troupe was formed. This group is led by Culture Keeper David Kwizera and has over 80 youth.
May: 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.
Daniel sent a wonderful update that he is no longer a driver but a full time musician! We are so proud of him!
Daniel, the Troupe’s Inanga player, performs for The President’s Wife Birthday and is hired for regular concerts at local international hotels.
LEAF Intore Troupe does first performance at Serena Hotel Ballroom.
LEAF partners with Ivuka Arts.
LI Rwanda Students move from the streets into a HOUSE thanks to help of a LEAF supporter! They name themselves LEAF Intore Cultural Troupe.
LI Rwanda begins at the invite of international performing artist, Jean Paul Samputu.
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.
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
(pictured in the middle)
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.