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I need to teach my culture to other 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 Rwanda Culture Keeper


Kigali, Rwanda | Founded 2006 | 200+ Youth Served

Why Rwanda?

Artists have always come from Rwanda to perform at LEAF and share powerful stories of the resilience of youth in Kigali. In 2006, LEAF was introduced to a young David Kwizera. David was part of a group of young boys who had been receiving mentoring from other prominent artists. These boys are now men and have moved on to new journeys in life.
However, this extraordinary path has led to the rise of a phenomenal culture keeper (David)  & center that supports more than 200 youth in the Kacyiru district. This group of youth is known as the Rwanda JR Troupe.

Program Overview

The Rwanda JR Troupe is a talented, ambitious group of youth drummers & dancers from
various life backgrounds. These youth have an abundant amount of resilience & devotion. The youth have so much pride in being Rwandan and their excitement around learning their own culture is an
intangible feeling.
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

ONEmic Studio Rwanda

The mission of the Rwanda ONEmic is to help young artists develop talent and promote culture and music as a platform for self-expression.  Created in 2020, this ONEmic studio is a community resource for local musicians & storytellers located at the Rwanda JR Troupe Cultural Center.

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


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Program Highlights

  • Rwanda produced their first community performance with more than 100 people in attendance. This is the first of a continuation of quarterly performances hosted by the Rwanda JR Troupe
  • More than 50 youngsters join the program
  • Teen students are now teaching young students as teacher assistants
  • LEAF International artists have created a Cultural Connections platform to keep people engaged in learning about cultures, connect people with traditions other than their own, and to preserve their artforms. Culture Keepers share videos in an effort of creating a virtual pathway of exchange. This month, the Rwanda JR Troupe will share a variety of ways in which they continue to preserve traditions that are important to their history.

    Kunda Inkindi (Love Your Culture) Kunda Inkindi is a dance that shows love for culture in Rwanda tradition. Culture Keepers David Kwizera & Claude Nyandwi share their love for cultural preservation through Rwandan drum & dance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HahG6bjhb4&ab_channel=LEAFGlobalArts 

  • The Rwanda JR Troupe Culture center is incorporated as a local non-profit organization in Rwanda. This will give the program leaders more opportunity to expand, create more performances, and build a sustainable future.

  • The ONEmic studio is in full-effect with more than 25 recording artists regularly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnC1Bm9t1H8&list=PL53B75BB44CDA64F1&index=15&ab_channel=LEAFGlobalArtsLEAFGlobalArts 
  • 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.
  • LEAF International Rwanda culture keeper, David Kwizera, had his amazing cultural center upgraded with artistic elements that bring vibrancy and awareness. The center is was painted with the help of the JR Troupe youth. David is also built a ONEmic studio in hopes of creating financial stability for his program. As his entrepreneurial spirit excels, we support the growth and expansion of his endeavors.
  • LEAF International Rwanda received amazing ONEmic Studio upgrades with the support of a LEAF Member. One of the most important factors for these studios is the connection of youth to the global world through music production. Each studio offers the opportunity to explore the latest in music technology, equipment, and techniques while honoring the history and progression of music in their respective countries. Youth first learn how to completely set up and identify the different features of production equipment and then take creative liberty to explore with beats from around the world and their original compositions mixing their own songs. These studios serve as a resource for youth/teens sharing their personal stories & using music as a tool of self-expression. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnC1Bm9t1H8&feature=youtu.be 
  • The addition of a traditional visual arts program 

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.

August: 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 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 as have his first vacation ever!

LEAF International Tanzania & Rwanda headline the twice-annual Orange Peel performance alongside 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 of 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 of 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!!

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.

Patrick is recognized as the 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 their first performance at Serena Hotel Ballroom.

LEAF partners with Ivuka Arts.

Mizero Children of Rwanda return to LEAF Festival.

LI Rwanda partners with Playing for Change Foundation to pursue the dream of Intore Cultural Center.

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

Troupe starts a football team and is the first “Street Kids” to win a Football Tournament!

October: Performing artists 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: LEAF International Rwanda begins at the invite of the international performing artists.

Meet the Culture Keeper

David Kwizera was named Chief of the Intore Troupe at the age of 17. His leadership skills, confidence, and ability to stay positive during intense situations created a pathway for him to discover his passion for culture. For over 16 years, David has been learning, practicing, and teaching traditional Rwandan dance and drum. In 2017, he officially became a Culture Keeper with LEAF. 

David’s mission to bring kids off the streets and into the classroom has become a true reality. Over the past years, David led the creation of a Cultural Arts Center in Rwanda where he teaches more than 100 kids daily. Through his work, David embodies his mission while gracefully defining resilience, artistic leadership, and hope for new pathways in life through drum and dance. 

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 3 years and helps to teach the LEAF Rwanda
JR Troupe alongside culture keeper David Kwizera.

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, the 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 intangible energy. The youth have so much pride in being Rwandan.