The young people in the farming community of Estancia in El Salvador place a high value on being able to read and write. Many of them are among the first generation in their family to have access to formal education.

'Por La Gente, Para La Gente'

For every copy of the book that is purchased, Project Creed will print another one for the community of Estancia, El Salvador. People also can donate money directly.

For more information and to donate or buy the book, visit projectcreed.org .

Garrett Braun also is raising money to defray project and travel costs through Indiegogo. To help that way, visit indiegogo.com .

See a video about Braun's project at dailycamera.com.

But when Garrett Braun, a Boulder native who spent three months as a volunteer in the community in 2010, would ask people what reading and writing were good for, the answers were limited: applying for a job (of which there are very few) and reading the Bible.

Braun wanted to show his young students the possibilities that reading and writing could open up for them, and he wanted to do it in a way that would serve the community.

With the help of local friends, he identified the 25 oldest people in the community and matched them with 25 literate youth from the art programs he was working on. The young writers interviewed the elders about their lives and about the history of the community. Other students drew pictures to illustrate the stories.

Braun returned to the United States with hundreds of pages of manuscript and the idea of turning it into a book.

Garrett Braun, of Boulder, shows a woman named Guillerma who was interviewed for the book  By the People, For the People: The History of Estancia as Told
Garrett Braun, of Boulder, shows a woman named Guillerma who was interviewed for the book By the People, For the People: The History of Estancia as Told by the People a photo he took of her in Estancia, El Salvador. (Garrett Braun)

Two years later, "Por La Gente, Para La Gente: La Historia de Estancia Como Contando por la Gente" -- "By the People, For the People: The History of Estancia as Told by the People" -- is going through final edits. Braun plans to return to Estancia later this fall with copies of the book for the individuals who produced it, for the schools, for the library and for as many other community members as Braun can find funding for.

Teaching art

Braun, who grew up in Boulder and graduated from Boulder High School before attending Soka University of America in California, went to El Salvador with a grant from the Pacific Basin Research Center and worked with local organizations connected to Doctors for Global Health.

His main project involved teaching art to children and teens from the community's five villages.

The stories collected from the elders recount the changes in everything from religious festivities to farming practices over the last half century, the myths and traditions that the elders learned from their elders long ago and their experiences in El Salvador's brutal civil war.

Estancia lies in the region that saw some of the heaviest fighting, and the community mostly sympathized with the leftist rebels fighting the government. Many men from the community joined the rebels. Many families fled or hid from the fighting.

The stories also recount the much greater diversity of plant and animal life in the past and the shift from traditional farming techniques to the use of pesticides and GMO seeds.

Some of the stories were remarkably universal. The elders said that young people today are not as polite as they used to be.

"There didn't used to be schools, so all the education happened in the home," Braun said. "They blame the schools for not educating the kids to be polite. It was similar to the types of complaints you hear here."

'Common history'

In the years since the end of the civil war, political parties have proliferated in El Salvador, and the community, though small, is divided.

Braun said he hopes the book can serve as a source of unity and shared experiences.

"That's something that I hoped would be a productive aspect of the book," he said. "Oral history is only going to be transmitted to people that you trust. Written history is able to transcend those boundaries. It can be read by everyone as long as you have access to the book. Even though I interviewed people from so many different political affiliations, they had a lot in common and shared a lot of common history and experiences."

He also wanted to show them the power of the written word.

"I didn't write this book," Braun said. "I just happened to be a person who was there who could put it together."

Braun's goal is to bring 300 copies of the book back to Estancia this fall.

The book is being published and printed by Project Creed, an organization that publishes children's books for communities in developing countries.

"We try to fuse local knowledge, myth and lore with health and hygiene or some issue the community cares about, and we make a book about it," said Project Creed CEO Dani Siems.

Siems attended Soka University with Braun and agreed to help with the project, even though it's outside Project Creed's usual scope.

"This book has a lot more personal history of the community, instead of stories," Siems said. "We decided to use it anyway because it was their story, something they wanted to share with the generations that were coming behind."