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International Aid Worker Corinne Hancock on Thriving in Chaos

DENVER–Imagine you are on a shuttle bus on a medical mission in Equador driving through the majestic Andes mountains. You’re en route to Quito, the capital, from Cuenca, a remote village. It is the middle of the night and after a long day, you are fast asleep. Suddenly, you are awakened with a jolt as the bus crashes and tips on its side. When your brain finally registers what happened, you frantically search for your son in the darkness, praying he is all right. People are screaming and moaning in pain. Supplies and equipment are strewn about. You are the organizer of this trip and it’s your job to calm nerves, take care of your son and the injured passengers, find a way to fix the bus, and get everyone back on track to help people who are waiting in Quito for your support. How do you handle the chaos?

For Corrine Hancock, a Denver-based speaker and international aid worker for Bold Leaders, Project CURE and the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation, the shuttle bus crash described above wasn’t a hypothetical. She was on that bus in June 2013 and in charge of the mission. In the darkness of night and surrounded by the intimidating peaks of the Andes, Ms. Hancock quickly surveyed the scene and established her next steps. 

“When chaos hits it is not only about what you do, but who you are,” Ms. Hancock said in a recent interview with she-files.com. “Your team, your people are going to show up just like you. So be what you want the outcome to be.”

When Ms. Hancock speaks, she instantly draws people in. She speaks with an honesty and vulnerability that is rare and compelling. While her looks are more Hollywood starlet than international aid worker–a hindrance to her profession as she’s had to prove time and again that she’s more than a pretty face–her words reveal sharp wisdom and intellect. Ms. Hancock has worked for the U.S. Department of State, YPO (Young Presidents Organization), 2018 Global Leadership Conference, to name just a few organizations, and recently gave a speech at Women’s Legacy 22, a Denver-based organization whose mission it is to educate women so they can leave a legacy of leadership. Introducing Ms. Hancock before the talk in late 2018, Women’s Legacy 22 co-founders Tami Jorden and Sarah Spencer-Workman, said “She speaks with the authority of a warrior who served in the mayhem of the trenches” and “She is lightning in a bottle!” 

After calmly assessing the bus crash, Ms. Hancock was relieved to find only a few cuts and bruises on passengers and her son unhurt. The bus driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and although the passengers weren’t seriously injured, the bus was beat-up and had a flat tire. But it could have been much worse. Instead of veering off the cliff, the sleeping driver miraculously steered the bus toward the mountain and into a ditch.

Ms. Hancock is no stranger to chaos. She balances her career with a lively household; she has two teenage boys, four goats, seven chickens, three ducks, one lizard and one rescue dog. She also fosters puppies. In times of chaos, she has learned that people generally do one of three things: avoid, control and blame.

She could have spent her time blaming the driver or herself and avoiding taking responsibility. Instead, she took control. “I wanted a calm and confident team that was ready to get back to it– that would get back in the van so we could get to work,” Ms. Hancock said. “We spent several hours hanging out on the side of the road while the tire was being repaired,” she said. “I spent most of that time keeping the team focused on the solution, not the problem.”

Turning adversity into an advantage isn’t something Ms. Hancock was born doing. She has cultivated her skills over the years. “I have been through two divorces and an abusive relationship,” she said. “I have been fired and I am a mother of two boys who now are teenagers.” Thriving in chaos is a learned skill.

The bus crash coupled with her years of experience as an aid worker taught Ms. Hancock valuable lessons that she now passes on in her talks and as a coach. Chaos, Ms. Hancock believes, is universal. And in her mind, shifting your perspective to view chaos as an opportunity instead of an impediment is empowering. It’s akin to turning adversity into advantage.

An important step in making that transition is education. As an aid worker–in Ecuador, Kenya, Cameroon, Nicaragua, and numerous other countries–and a leadership coach to other aid workers, Ms. Hancock believes that aid without education does not work. In the past, her medical mission group might have installed a pump for a village in Cameroon. At some point, the pump would break and need to be fixed. She underlines the fact that when we give things without educating it creates a dependency and powerlessness. “This is how I now see every village I work with. We use a coaching-based process for helping villages transform themselves and break the cycle of extreme poverty.”

Chaos happens– for all of us. The bus crash in Equador wasn’t only life-changing for Ms. Hancock. Before the crash, Freddy, the bus driver, was struggling. After the crash, he had a renewed sense of purpose. “All I wanted,” he told Ms. Hancock “was to be was alive.” Chaos, if looked at in the right mindset, can truly make us stronger. With the tire repaired, Ms. Hancock climbed back into the bus, wiser and ready to face the next challenge. “I sat in the front passenger seat next to Freddy, giving him snacks and gum to make sure he was not going to fall asleep again.” Ms. Hancock’s parting words on chaos: “Right on the other side of chaos are our greatest lessons and sometimes our most valuable gifts.”


by Leslie Kinne

Leslie Kinne lives in Littleton, Colorado with her husband, four teenagers and a menagerie of pets. She enjoys time with her family, writing, yoga and being outdoors in the Rocky Mountains.

Images courtesy of Corinne Hancock

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