Church to host talk on climate change displacement

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GUILFORD — "Broken House, Broken Lives: Environmentally-Induced Displacement in Ecuador" is the focus of a presentation by recent college graduate Tilden Remerleitch, who is sharing her experiences in Ecuador in a free public event on Sunday, May 12, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the hour after the service, at the Guilford Community Church.

A recent UVM graduate, Remerleitch received a National Geographic Society's early career grant to fund her community-based research on how natural disasters, climate change and resource extraction in Ecuador alter the complex relationships between people and place.

Scientists say climate change is speeding glacial melt in the highlands and threatening water shortages in major cities such as the capital of Quito. Extractive industries in the Amazon region are displacing indigenous populations from their ancestral lands. "In this era of forced migration and displacement globally, Ecuador is a really compelling microcosm of these global trends," Remerleitch explained.

Her research uses the cultural geography lens to examine two primary research questions, she explained, "With the effects of displacement, how is home and livelihood imagined and re-imagined? And, what is displacement's effect on people's emotional, economic and spiritual relationship to the environment?"

Given climate irregularity, fresh water shortages and the predicted rise in forced migration, Remerleitch hopes this research can help inform a plan of action to lessen the conflicts and other issues that can accompany displacement, contribute to prevention efforts and document solutions.

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Remerleitch's research has taken her to three primary eco-zones in Ecuador; the highlands, the Amazon jungle and the coast, where she has spent much of her time volunteering with Fundaci n Ra z, an Ecuadorian NGOs working with internally displaced populations on the coast and indigenous tribes in the Amazon River basin. Since January, Remerleitch also manages some of Fundaci n Ra z's week-long building efforts on the coast, coordinating groups of volunteers from schools, churches and corporations.

According to Remerleitch, an earthquake in 2016 of 7.8 magnitude on Ecuador's coast affected 240,000 people, many of whom still do not have permanent housing, three years later. A big part of Remerleitch's role has been surveying households to make sure that the most destitute families are first-in-line for the donated housing.

Depending on the size of the group, volunteers donate funds to build one or more of the bamboo homes for the earthquake survivors identified as living in the worst conditions, Remerleitch explained. "On occasion, with enough volunteer labor we've been able to rebuild an entire village in a week's time!"

Whenever possible, Fundaci n Ra z involve the donor-volunteers as part of the construction process. According to Remerleitch, it typically takes a week or less for two people to complete a house as the bamboo panels are pre-fabricated off-site. The NGO in turn provides volunteers with housing, meals, transportation, coordination, materials and expertise. "It is rewarding for donors who have raised funds for a house to work side-by-side with the beneficiaries and experience their joy firsthand," Remerleitch said.

Remerleitch's volunteer work for Fundaci n Ra z has helped her identify interview subjects for a podcast that National Geographic is funding which she plans to make available next year in English and Spanish.

Guilford Community Church is located at 38 Church Drive. For more information, contact the church at 802-257-0994 or Tilden Remerleitch at 802-257-7247.


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