Guilford woman receives funding for environmental-displacement research

GUILFORD — Tilden Remerleitch of Guilford has been selected for a National Geographic Early Career Grant for the next academic year.

The funds will support the geography major's research on Ecuador's internally displaced and their relationship to the environment. Remerleitch graduated from the University of Vermont, Brattleboro Union High School, and Guilford Central School.

The selection criteria, according to the National Geographic Society, are bold, innovative, and potentially transformative projects with their primary focus in conservation, education, research, storytelling, or technology.

Remerleitch's project will combine storytelling through podcasts and video with participatory research regarding natural disasters, extractive industries, and climate change. She expects to work in three affected Ecuadorian communities on the coast, jungle, and highlands.

“In this era of global forced migration and displacement, Ecuador is a really compelling microcosm of global trends,” Remerleitch explained in a news release.

In Ecuador, causes of displacement include a 2016 earthquake of 7.8 magnitude on Ecuador's coast, which affected 241,000 people; water security issues due to glaciers receding in the Andean highlands; and forced migration of indigenous populations in the Amazon region due to the extraction industries, primarily for oil and minerals.

The National Geographic Society “Explorer,” as grantees are called, will be using innovative Participatory Action Research methods that emphasize collaborative research that results in positive tangible outcomes for the community that she first employed through UVM.

Some of these tools include diagramming, mapping, Photo-voice, and a podcast series that will be available in fall 2019 in English and Spanish, according to Remerleitch.

“My plan is to host workshops for participants to develop their own stories and help them share their experiences with a wider audience,” she explained.

Remerleitch first became interested in environmentally induced displacement and its effects while a geography major at the University of Vermont when she had the opportunity to work closely with her advisor Pablo Bose, who is a leading international expert on displacement.

She says she felt fortunate to work on Bose's National Science Foundation research involving recently resettled refugees in Burlington for three of her four years at UVM, gathering statistics and creating GIS maps about the effects of resettlement on refugees and their surrounding communities.

The culmination of Remerleitch's collaboration with Bose resulted in an “alternative” honors thesis her senior year: the podcast “Grounded: Stories of Refugee Resettlement in Vermont,” a result, she explained, of her desire to get behind the data and share refugee and stakeholders' personal stories around resettlement.

“Storytelling is a powerful medium and can be a bridge across cultural differences,” Remerleitch said.

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