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Coaching When Disaster Strikes, by Keith E. Webb

Jan 22nd, 2010 | By | Category: Missions Coaching

How can coaches respond and help with natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti? There are many ways, from giving and going to coaching from home. Lessons learned from the 2004 Asian Tsunami can help.

When the Asian Tsunami hit I was living and working in Indonesia. The whole Christian community was taken by surprise. Most of us had no previous experience or interest in relief work. Yet, the gigantic humanitarian need was thrust upon us and we learned some valuable lessons.

1. Save Lives. The first few weeks require getting as much water, food, medical aid, and temporary shelter into the effected area as possible. Time is important, not efficiency or planning. So, if people can get a flight there and carry in valuable material, this material may save lives. The vast majority of disaster victims die within 72 hours after impact.

Coaches can get money quickly to the people who can turn that money into life-saving material and efforts. Through my network I quickly raised $100,000 and got half that money immediately to colleagues on the ground who could use it. If you don’t know anyone, then a larger organization such as World Vision is a trustworthy partner.

2. Stabilize Lives. Creating temporary housing, securing clean water, sewage and other measures prevent the spread of secondary disease. Travel will become easier into the affected area. It was at this time that I made the first of three trips to Aceh, North Sumatra. The first trip was to understand the conditions of my dozens of friends and colleagues that were working in a month after the Tsunami. We (my pastor joined) went to support them. We found they had witnessed horrific things and were living off adrenaline and little sleep – physically and emotionally exhausted. We listened to them, cried with them, and encouraged them to get out and rest, even for a few days.

At this time, training and coaching is needed. My second trip into the affected area provided a retreat for workers to stop and recharge. Others brought training on grief, trauma debriefing, post-traumatic stress, conflict management, etc. These were all real, practical, and immediately applied. I began to coach an organization head by satellite phone.

3. Rebuild Lives. It takes years to rebuild. In Aceh, in the middle of a miles of flattened buildings I met a man living in the shell of the one odd building still standing. He told me that he was in town when the tsunami hit. When he returned home, all was gone, including 18 family members. His wife, children, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. His employer and work place were washed away. What will he do?

Relief workers and survivors must shift to medium- and long-term efforts. Again, training and coaching can make a huge impact at this stage. My third trip to Aceh was six months after the tsunami, when I equipped a team of 25 Indonesians in coaching skills they could use to help Acehnese people rebuild their lives. I supported their efforts by coaching two of the leaders by phone. All of this coaching and training was donated.

Strategies for the Haiti Earthquake
• Do you know someone there or going? Get money to them for immediate aid.
• Research what relief workers need pre-, mid-, and post-deployment so you’re ready to coach in a relevant way.
• Offer free coaching to relief workers, families of victims, or survivors.

Add your ideas, resources, or opportunities (briefly) in the comments.


Dr. Keith E. Webb is a cross-cultural leadership coach helping organizations, teams, and individuals multiply their cross-cultural impact. Keith has lived in Asia for 20 years. He developed the 60-hour Core Coaching Skills Certificate Program and offers a free monthly newsletter with articles like this one.
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