ETL’s latest film spotlights women in agriculture in Rwanda and central Minnesota

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April 8, 2016

By Mike Killeen

Floride and Constance are two Rwandan female farmers. Sister Phyllis Plantenberg, OSB, and Kate Ritger are two central Minnesota residents who are voices in the movement for local and sustainable agriculture.

All four will be featured when Extending the Link (ETL) debuts its ninth documentary, "Ubumwe," meaning "unity" in Kinyarwanda (the official language of Rwanda). The film will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14, at the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater at Saint John's University. A second showing is at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at Alumnae Hall at the College of Saint Benedict.

ETL is a non-profit, student-run venture sponsored by the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship, and makes annual documentaries to promote positive social change.

"Our team identified women in agriculture as a growing trend in our local community, but also as a point of interest for many development organizations around the world," said CSB senior Anna Cron, ETL's co-director.

"By emphasizing the role women in agriculture play abroad in strengthening communities, nourishing families and economic growth, we were also able to evaluate the role local women in agriculture play in our own communities and examine the issues they face in their own backyards," Cron said. "This opened the door to learn more about the local importance of local food, education on our own food systems and ways that students and 'average' people can become agents for change through agriculture."

Since the Rwandan genocide in 1994 (an estimated 1 million people were killed in a four-month period), the country has made an effort to increase women's involvement in agriculture. Farmers make up 80 percent of Rwanda's economy, with an estimated 80 percent of farmers being women.

That led the ETL crew, which visited the country over winter break, to meet Floride, who is head of a women's farming cooperative in northern Rwanda. Over 20 women in her community now work to plant, harvest and live together. "Floride's story of leadership, empowerment and self-determination embodies the spirit of Rwandan women's rebirth after genocide," said CSB senior Megan Towle, ETL's co-director.

Constance was another Rwandan the group met. She was a teacher at the time of genocide, and used her position as one of the most educated people in her community to lead the formation of an organization to support women post-genocide. "Through agriculture and livestock, she was able to rebuild her community and innovate by necessity," Towle said.

Befitting a group whose motto is, "Think globally, act locally," ETL also examined women in agriculture in central Minnesota. Plantenberg began the Common Ground garden at CSB, and Ritger is the current director of the garden.

"We feel that their stories demonstrate how students do not need to look any further than their backyard to get involved and generate positive social change," Towle said.

Cron hopes viewers can "adopt the lessons the Rwandan people learned after genocide, including the importance of forgiveness and community. The people of Rwanda have seen tragedy unlike anything we can comprehend, and if they are able to look beyond their differences to reconcile and rebuild themselves, our communities can overcome any obstacles that come our way.

"We also hope that students understand that they can be a part of the solution," Cron said. "By engaging in our food systems by doing something as small as planting a garden, we can learn to respect the work that goes into the production of locally grown food, and begin to become more sustainable in our consumer habits."

"Ubumwe," the latest documentary from Extending the Link (ETL), will make its debut at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14, at the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater at Saint John's University.

Kate Ritger, who is director of the Common Ground garden and featured in the documentary, will speak before the showing. Following the screening, there will be a panel question-and-answer session. The panel will include ETL co-directors Anna Cron and Megan Towle; Ynis Isimbi, a CSB senior from Rwanda; Bao Khang, an ETL videographer and CSB senior; Lisa Baker, a farmer from Avon, Minnesota, who is a CSB graduate; and Diane Veale Jones, professor of environmental studies at CSB and SJU.

A second showing is at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at Alumnae Hall at the College of Saint Benedict.

"Ubumwe," as well other documentaries produced by ETL, are available on YouTube. DVD copies will also be available at Clemens and Alcuin libraries.