For many hours each day as we volunteers dug holes for the posts and bent rebar for the bracing of the first elementary school in Las Minitas, Lionel was there.
I think he came to see what we were doing, every day. Sometimes he and other kids would play ball, run around on the hill over rocks and around trees as only kids can maneuver without falling, or sometimes he'd just sit there in an empty school chair and watch us.
He was there when Enlace Project opened the elementary school on a sunny February day — and I felt blessed to be there, too.
I've been going to this tiny mountain community outside El Sauce, Nicaragua, for seven years now, volunteering with economic development, documenting residents' efforts, and generally falling in love with Las Minitas families.
A year after the elementary school opened, I took this photo of Lionel learning some math at the blackboard. I have tons more. The kid was everywhere.
There will be no more.
Lionel died 9 days ago. He was playing with friends and he accidentally drowned in a river. He could not swim.
I remember in April 2014, I launched this world trip and started it off with the most exciting project --- I was there with Lionel too.
The Friends Project, my grassroots effort, raised $5,300 for materials and labor for the farmers to open a preschool in Las Minitas.
I lived there for several months as we all built it, and of course Lionel was there to have a look-see — when he wasn't in class.
Enrique and Juan say the community is very sad with Lionel's passing of course. Today is the 9th day of his death. In Nicaraguan tradition, loved ones and family are gathering to remember Lionel.
Here, in Germany, I am remembering Lionel also. His smile. How he sometimes walked behind us and when I turned he beamed really bright and always seemed like he was up to something with his spunk.
You always think they are going to be there forever.
No one is. Sometimes they are gone so much sooner than we imagine.
I love this photo of Lionel and am proud it will be part of the Nicaraguan photodocumentary — always. Lionel is part of this community, and therefore what makes it special. He is also part of the generations that will benefit from all the work that the moms and dads and granddads and moms are doing there.
I'm glad he will look out as a representation of Las Minitas and the opportunities everyone has created, adn the special place it is.
Farewell Lionel. Safe passage, as they say.