Extending the Link was conceived in 2007 by three students from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University on a semester abroad program in Guatemala. Students saw firsthand the importance- both social and economic- of fair trade coffee in Guatemala. While abroad these undergraduates volunteered with a fair-trade cooperative named Kuchaba'l and upon returning to the U.S became committed to showing others what they had experienced. Not only had the students become advocates of fair trade coffee and other products, but they had begun planning their return trip- this time with a passion and desire to spread the significance of fair trade coffee. After rekindling prior connections, they set out producing hours of footage, dozens of local interviews, and endless hours of research. A twenty-two minute documentary titled Somos de Café was created and graciously embraced by the CSB/SJU community. Extending the Link was born.
After the success and enthusiasm generated by Somos de Café (2008), the students were inspired to investigate more under-told issues around the globe. Their mission was to create documentaries and other tools for students, faculty, alumni and community members to provide global awareness about matters which often go unheard.
The second project (2009), titled Del micro al Cambio, was produced in Chile and was specifically aimed at capturing the importance and necessity of micro loans to woman entrepreneurs in South America. The students thoroughly researched these lending opportunities, traveled to Chile, conducted interviews, edited the footage and premiered the new documentary at CSB/SJU.
The founders of the ETL graduated in the spring of 2009 and the leadership was passed on to a new team with hopes of creating a sustainable and structured organization. The new student management -from diverse backgrounds and disciplines- did just that.
In January 2010, after nearly 8 months of fundraising and planning, the ETL team traveled to rural Uganda to discover, understand and foster student activism regarding the plight of child-headed families in Africa. They partnered with the Uganda Rural Fund and Hope Academy to interview doctors, teachers, politicians and, most importantly, the youth left to take care of younger siblings while going to school and maintaining jobs.
In January 2011, ETL members traveled to Nepal to examine the issue of human trafficking. The latest film features Padhma Creations, an innovative social venture that empowers human trafficking victims by providing knitting and business training. "Pragati," which means "progress" in Nepali, truly showed the progress occurring in Nepal, and generated discussions around human trafficking on campus, encouraged our community to buy Padhma products, and engaged CSB/SJU students in several volunteer opportunities with nonprofit organizations throughout Minnesota.
In January 2012, ETL members traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to film the rebuilding after the war. During the conflict of the 1990s, Bosnia and Herzegovina faced horrible acts of genocide that were labeled as the worst genocide in Europe's history since the Holocaust. This documentary explored the history through the lens of the young and how they are working together to rebuild their country.
In January 2013, ETL members traveled to India to investigate the issues of stigmas against mental health. ETL focused on the Angali Mental Health Rights Organization and how they combat such stigmas. This film explores what can happen if charity starts in the home, and how that can teach individuals to respond to others with or without mental illnesses.
In January of 2014, ETL traveled to Thailand to document the Karen refugees. The documentary highlights refugee issues, both in the United States and abroad. The team focused specifically on the Karen population, a group of people who live on the border of Burma and Thailand as a result of a drawn out civil war and genocide. ETL chose this topic because of the misunderstanding surrounding refugees and chose this population because of the large Karen refugee population that lives in the Twin Cities.
In May of 2015, the ETL team determined that the project they were to focus on for the following academic year would be on Indigenous Issues. In researching indigenous populations, it was decided that the story should capture issues of the Sàmi people. As the only recognized indigenous community of Europe, the film explores the modern history of the Sámi people as they create their own pathway in the modern world. In a story about both resistance and survival, the documentary shed light on dying cultures and the necessity of tradition and the interconnectedness of all people. The subtle approach to the issues of indigeniety, cultural diversity, and heritage loss provided a stark contrast to the previous films efforts at presenting an issue of social justice.
In January of 2016, ETL traveled to Rwanda to document the role that women play in agriculture as a force for economic stability and gender equality from Minnesota to Rwanda. Ubumwe, meaning “unity” in Kinyarwanda, explores the difficulties presented to women farmers, as well as the immense strength the women gain economically, socially, and personally within their communities.
The birth of technology has made staying in touch with one another simple, but in staying connected with each other, there has been a loss of the connection with our planet. The increasing amount of electronic waste around us daily has demonstrated the failure in finding sustainable ways to dispose of it. Fascinated by this issue, ETL traveled to Hong Kong to document what is happening to our e-waste, and what we can do about it.
After sharing the documentary with our community, ETL was able to partner with the sustainability offices at CSB/SJU to begin a sustainable depository for e-waste within our immediate community. In addition to the depository, we also researched the best e-waste deposit centers within the Twin Cities, where the majority of our students are from, so that sustainable e-waste recycling doesn’t end upon graduation.
In January of 2018, produced a documentary on the spiritual and cultural significance individuals have with water. The two stories the team chose to parallel were from the perspectives of Hindu individuals in India and the band of Chippewa Native Americans in Red Lake, Minnesota. Both of these stories explored the connection people share with water, either by religious or cultural practice. Throughout the film, we identified the presence of a gap within American ties to water. The gap, we learned, is not a failure in forming a connection, nor understanding the significance of water, but that individuals struggle to perceive the connection they have with water. In failing to form connection, we succeed at forming apathy towards the water we survive by.
In 2019, ETL went to Germany to explore the parallels between Somali refugees' experiences in St. Cloud, MN and refugees' experiences in Germany. Through the commonalities in experiences, we hope to present a variety of perspectives to encourage a complex and honest conversation about how we define community.
In 2020, ETL focused the film on access to transportation and how that impacts individuals’ abilities to access education and other beneficial programs. ETL spent the year studying how individuals, both in Arequipa, Peru and Minnesota, cope with the inability to find or deal with the lack of transportation.
In late September of 2020, Extending the Link participated in a water-walk, in which members of the community walked along the Lake Wobegon Trail, carrying a pint of sacred water from the Mississippi River. The Relay for our Water emphasized the importance of clean water that ETL explored in our 2018 documentary, Nibi Eteg: Where the Water Is, and called for urgent action to halt the construction on Line 3 (a harmful oil pipeline set to be built on the lands belonging to the Anishinaabeg indigenous peoples). This water-walk played part in a larger journey of transporting the sacred water, Nibi, across Minnesota to advocate for clean water.
Amist a pandemic during 2021, ETL found ways to continue to use their platform as a way to inform others on undertold social issues. This, year, they used the power of podcasts to do so. undErToLd is podcast series produced and edited by ETL. Our goal is to amplify suppressed voices, give listeners a raw and real look at social justice issues happening in their areas, and mobilize listeners and members to make change in their communities. Think globally, act locally, and listen up!