Teaching music has become a new way of speaking to people. It has opened new channels of telling the people we are here and we have a culture.


Bribri, Ngäbe-Buglé & Cabecar First Nations | Founded 2013 | 100+ Youth Served

Why Costa Rica?

LEAF Supporter Greg Lucas of The Dan Lucas Foundation attended the 1st gathering of all of the First Nations in Costa Rica in 2012. He approached LEAF with the concept and support to start working with at least two First Nations and their culture keepers, and this extraordinary journey began.

Program Overviews


From music instruments to child sponsorship, our people-centered programs depend on generous givers like you to grow and thrive. Donate today! 100% of your gift goes directly to supporting Global Arts education & preservation!

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Explore Costa Rican Culture

Take a journey that will immerse you into the heart of LEAF and its mission. Learn about the cultures, preservation methods, and musical traditions of the First Nations of Costa Rica and the cultivation of art in Guatemala. See how LEAF International is contributing to the vivacity of these traditions by supporting cultural knowledge transfer to the next generations.

Program Highlights

  • Houses of Memory will focus on several methods of preservation including 1) Ajköki, focused on the singing of Ditsö women, 2) Stsö́k traditional songs and narratives, 3) Sabák bulâu̱k construction and execution of traditional instruments, 4) ókama bulâu̱k training in popular music + sound and visual art + production technologies. This pilot plan is developed in a technology and tradition hub located in Amubri, Talamanca. The goal is to heal a gap between generations and create safe spaces for the transmission of knowledge, experimentation and expression.
  • Deep program refocus on plant and land preservation
  • The creation of several initiatives are underway in Costa Rica.
    1) Develop a program, parallel to public schools, to foment vocations and learn from traditional education. Propose a program that can be replied in other communities to promote culture keepers.
    This program will be based upon the “Ulá Peitök” model of interchange. Public education and traditional education: recognizing the kids’ rights to be educated in their own culture and be respected when they receive traditional charges like – Awá – medicine man, Siatami — keeper of healing stones 
    2) A traditional and contemporary music workshop: A place where kids learn their traditional chants and dances, how to build their instruments; but also they have access to contemporary instruments and recording equipment.
    3) Women voices of resilience: An artistic transmedia project to capture audios from women that tell the life story about how they face and suffer: Education, evangelization, land usurpation, violence, aggression and violence. So we can develop a book, a website – documentary audio booths and a media campaign.
  • Participated virtually in the VLEAF LatinX Heritage appreciation festival. This was the first festival featuring all LEAF International Latin America programs.
  • Cultural Expedition fully immersed participants in dynamic spaces of ceremonial practices, traditional medicinal customs & language recovery.
  • Guided by their culture keeper Luis Salazar, youth in Costa Rica share ceremonial songs in their native Cabécar language. With roots that travel high through the Chirripó Mountains, the youth inspire and captivate with their dedication to the cultural preservation of their lands, language, and customs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vnaVNoSKb0&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=LEAFGlobalArts 

Culture keepers and students participate in a 5-day residency at Candler Elementary, more than 4 cultural exchanges across the county & joined LEAF for the 49th LEAF festival. The Costa Rica crew taught more than 275 youth

Alexis Rodriguez published his second book, Ji Tara Kri Deka. This book is infused with traditional Ngabe stories and poems to help the youth connect to their traditional Indian roots. Ji Tara Kri Deka is in 35 schools & 5 Indian Territories throughout Southern Costa Rica and Northern Panama. 

October: Culture Keepers Luis Salazar & Jairo Sanchez are building two separate schools in different regions of Costa Rica so youth can have stability in their study quarters.

September: Put on your boots, pack your backpack, and imagine walking 3 DAYS across the Chirripo Mountains to the nearest town then hitching rides and buses to get to the capital city. The traffic, paved roads, sounds, cars, lights, shops, and so many people were all such a surprise to Ceclia Last month was Cecilia’s 1st time away from home- she is 10yrs old. She performed alongside her dynamic mentor, LEAF International Culture Keepers Luis, and with other international youth at San Jose’s Museum of Jade. This was a big life journey.

“Being in the city, Cecilia understood the beauty & importance of her sacred homeland in the beautiful mountain lands of Costa Rica. She was able to share her in-depth perceptions of preservation with more than 100 people- her voice by song and speaking was honored. She now knows the difference and we want people to know that she can help us tell that story of cultural and land preservation.” – Luis Porras Mora

July: Alexis Rodriguez, Jairo Sanchez, & Luis Porras Mora join the 2nd annual LEAF Arts & Park Camp for a 2-week cultural exchange with Asheville area youth.

February: Twelve LEAFers journey to Costa Rica alongside tour partner, Discovery Expeditions to visit the LEAF International program in Bri Bri First Nation. The nine-day quest is a transformational and enlightening experience for all aboard.  Cultural lessons are gifted to the group about indigenous arts and music for the Ngabe, Cabecar, and Bri Bri; cacao medicinal properties and ancient uses; Bri Bri language; conical house architecture; Sbák drumming with Teaching Artist, Jairo Sanchez (alongside his teacher and grandfather, Don Emilio); and traditional chants, songs, and dances among the First Nations.  Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” serendipitously and appropriately become the group song. The future for these programs is bright.

October: With Proyecto Jirondai, a third LEAF International program is launched with the Cabecar First Nation: empowering medicine man and culture keeper, Luis Salazar, with the support he needs to teach youth in his community in the Chirripos mountains about plant medicine, ancient songs, creation stories, and sacred ceremonies and lullabies. Additionally, Luis Salazar travels to Ujarras once a month to teach another group of students this ancient wisdom as well.

May: 18 Members of Proyecto Jirondai and the First Nation communities travel to the US to share with the LEAF community the traditions of their cultural art while participating in cultural exchanges with various communities in the Asheville area. Cultures were connected and unforgettable friendships formed. This exchange led to increased visibility and recognition of these communities and the pressing challenges they face. 

March: LEAF International helps to facilitate cultural exchange and cultural remembrance trip. Members of the Ngabe community in Costa Rica traveled to their homelands in Panama for the first time in their lives, allowing children to see the mountains that they’ve only heard about in their mythology and creation myths. These individuals reunited with the Ngabe communities still living in Panama and participated in a cultural gathering that celebrated their heritage. This experience was one of the most profound moments LEAF International has been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of–all involved were brought to tears of joy, remembrance, and gratitude. This connection continues, and LEAF International is planning to help start a sister program with this Ngabe community in Panama in the future. These exchanges will continue as we work to bolster and strengthen Ngabe cultural identity.

February: LEAF International hosts its first-ever Cultural Exchange Trip in the Bribri and Ngabe First Nation communities, allowing LEAFers and these communities to build relationships with one another, connecting cultures and cultivating global citizenship.

November: With the help of Proyecto Jirondai, Ngabe Teaching Artist, Alexis Rodriguez, won a scholarship from the Ministry of Culture to further his cultural teachings throughout the country of Costa Rica.

October: With a formal invitation from the vice-president, children from both the Ngabe and Bribri programs perform at the presidential house of Costa Rica, bringing these programs national recognition, and giving voice and visibility to indigenous cultural rights more visibility.

September: Kids from Alto Laguna, Ngabe, won 1st place in their area at the National Students Arts Festival, an annual festival organized by the Minister of Education. Good job!

June: 5 LEAFers, including a videographer, travel to Costa Rica to visit the programs in both La Casona and Talamanca. They connect, share, and learn, while also collecting footage for LEAF International documentation efforts.

August: LEAF Staff travels to Costa Rica to launch programs in Talamanca and La Casona. The trip is a big success! All involved are inspired to preserve indigenous culture and traditions of the two First Nations.

January: Greg Lucas dreams of this project. Greg and LEAF vision a viable way to launch a LEAF International program in Costa Rica.

Meet The Culture Keepers
Alexis Rodriguez – Alexis Rodriguez learned music and Ngäbe traditions from his mother who
lived near the frontier. While he speaks Spanish, he thinks in Ngäbe-Buglé. For more than 20
years, Alexis has served as a culture keeper teaching thousands of youth traditional Ngäbe-Buglé
music, rhythms, chants, and the language itself. Alexis has authored 3 books that are used in schools in southern Costa Rica & Northern Panama to teach youth the Ngabe language & history. 

Cabécar culture keeper, Luis Salazar is a teacher, healer, medicine-man,
agriculturist, musician, & community leader. Luis teaches kids in his community, high on the
Chirripó Mountain, and he travels across the country to teach oral traditions & medicine, and ancient chants to the Cabécar kids of Ujarras in the South Pacific. Both culture keepers are band members of LEAF partner, Proyecto Jirondai, which uses ancient traditions and the voices of the elders with contemporary music to bring awareness to indigenous culture and the voices of marginalized people. Proyecto Jirondai also uses visuals to explain the songs for those who don’t speak their indigenous languages.

In 2017, Brianna left her village of Chirripo for the first-time & headed to the city of San Jose. The traffic, paved roads, sounds, cars, lights, shops, and so many people were all such a surprise to Brianna. Last year, 14 year old Brianna came to the US to teach & perform at the LEAF festival. The power and energy of her first international experience could be felt throughout her entire journey.  When she arrived in NC she was shy & reserved, by the time she left, she could not stop smiling, hugging, and laughing. Brianna only spoke her indigenous language – Cabecar, which made her stay in NC even more powerful. “Being in the city, Brianna understood the beauty & importance of her sacred homeland in the beautiful mountain lands of Costa Rica. She was able to share her in-depth perceptions on preservation with hundreds of people- her voice by song and speaking was honored. She now knows the difference and we want people to know that she can help us tell that story of cultural and land preservation.” – Luis Porras Mora

Mayani is a Maasai boy from longido Arusha. He went to boarding school at 6 years old and lost his Maasai language and tradition. Since joining the LEAF program, he has learned to sing Maasai songs, practiced the ‘jump’ tradition and wear Maasai shukas (traditional clothing). Mayani is extremely happy and is currently teaching other youth the culture.