Local superwoman and GM of CityHope Disaster Relief thrives on adrenaline and urgency, writes Maya Jagjivan Kalicharan.
Most people would run away from disasters. Not the energetic and compassionate Catherine Smith of Kloof. She springs into action, organising relief efforts and ensuring that victims are uplifted when they are at their lowest. It’s a noble calling, and one that Catherine has made her life’s work.
She is the general manager of CityHope Disaster Relief based in Hillcrest. It is a public benefit organisation – registered in South Africa, but providing relief aid and disaster recovery across the world through international partners.
Catherine, who holds a degree in Industrial and Clinical Psychology, has worked with Durban’s street children at iCare and managed the Durban branch of the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa for ten years. She is now in her dream role. “I thrive on adrenalin and urgency. When a disaster strikes all my senses click into gear, and I come alive when I know my efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace results in the lives of others being immediately impacted,” she smiles.
Catherine praises her dedicated team who share her commitment for reaching out to communities. She adds, “The concern shown by individuals representing large businesses and corporations across South Africa over the years, has helped CityHope grow and have a more meaningful impact.”
Apart from the many smaller disasters they respond to, Catherine says KZN has kept them busy. “It began with flooding in April 2019, followed by COVID-19, the July unrest and last year’s KZN flooding … These larger disasters always bring with them a sense of community across barriers, and it is heart-warming to be part of it.” So far this year, they have supported over 1 000 families in KZN, Gauteng and the Eastern and Western Cape after their homes had been destroyed by fire or floods.
CityHope also provides finance for food relief and farming solutions in Somalia. In addition, they provided food, blankets and financial aid to families who were affected and displaced by Cyclone Cheneso in Madagascar and Cyclone Freddy in Mozambique and Malawi.
On the personal front, Catherine and her husband decided to homeschool their children during the COVID-19 lockdown, and continue to do so today.
She says, “This flexible lifestyle also allows me to expose our children to the reality of life, as they are sometimes invited to join the team when we are on the ground in the community. They are being brought up with grateful and generous hearts as they learn to serve those in need.”