Ryan Smith ‘06 has protested Nazi rallies in Germany. He’s been tear-gassed in Palestine and on Syrian streets as bombs fell. As a program executive and representative to the United Nations at the World Council of Churches, he’s witnessed the brutality of conflict – and the humanity within. 

Hartwick College alumnus Ryan Smith in front of the United Nations building

By Libby Cudmore


“In Palestine, a taxi driver told us to get in the car and roll up the windows,” he said. “It wasn’t the first time he’d seen tear gas thrown, but it was mine. You live these unreal experiences, and you see first-hand how people adapt, how they try to still live a good life.”

Getting into these communities is key, Smith said, and it’s about more than just showing up with a truck full of supplies. His position with the World Council of Churches places him in the center of a community during a disaster by putting him in direct contact with the faith communities.

“Churches are some of the first things that come up in communities,” he said. “When conflicts happen, they know what their communities need more than any group that comes in for six months during a crisis.”

Currently, he’s working with the UN Security Council and member churches in Colombia to help change sanctions against the country.

“One of the big problems in Colombia is that the approaches to the drug trade are stuck in the 1980s,” he said. “For example, instead of going after the small-scale farmers who farm the coca, we’re looking to help these farmers find other sources of income.”

He’s also working to seek peaceful solutions to conflicts in Israel and Palestine, Cuba, Sudan and South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Korean peninsula. “We want to find ways to end these wars that have been going on,” he said. 

But land wars and border conflicts may soon be a thing of the past, he said. “We’re going to start seeing more wars over resources, water, food,” he said. “That means that working in communities to be as healthy as they can be is going to be vital.”

As such, his focus on sustainable development, climate change, indigenous issues and gender justice is crucial to ensuring lasting success and peace in these communities. 

Hartwick, he said, was instrumental in helping him develop this passion for peace.

Hartwick is really the reason I’m in any of this work. I got an Emerson grant for an internship teaching English and doing community development work in Tanga, Tanzania for a summer, and that was life-changing.

In his senior year, he received a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Germany. “Those two pieces solidified that an international life was what I was looking for,” he said. “I knew I wanted to travel, live abroad.”

His time at Hartwick also showed him the power of community. “I was active with BlueKey and Student Government, worked as an RA and Resident Director, and was on the swim team,” he said. “It was important to me that I was part of a community that I loved.”

This summer, he received the Young Alumni Award for his work at making the world a more peaceful and equitable place. “Hartwick set the stage,” he said. “This place changed my life.”

November 28, 2023
From The Wick Magazine, Wick Mag Fall 2023

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