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CANSA Service Spotlight – Gerda Strauss

In the dynamic world of social work, Gerda Strauss embodies the essence of compassion and resilience. As the Head of Service at CANSA, her journey as a qualified Social Worker has been marked by a profound understanding of human behaviour and the significance of relationships in navigating life’s challenges.

Gerda views the role of a Social Worker as akin to a well-balanced fruit salad, each ingredient contributing its unique flavour and texture. From the sweetness of connection to the bitterness of conflict resolution and the tartness of confronting harsh realities, every element enriches the social worker’s skill set, enabling them to navigate any situation with finesse.

Central to Gerda’s approach is the emphasis on interpersonal skills cultivated through her training in Social Work. Her practice’s cornerstone is engaging in meaningful dialogue, mediating conflicts, and fostering genuine connections. Understanding the intricacies of human emotions and behaviours empowers her to support individuals through their most challenging times.

In her capacity at CANSA, Gerda confronts the harsh realities of life and death daily. It’s a realm where compassion isn’t just a virtue; it’s a necessity. She holds immense respect for the social workers at CANSA and outside the organisation, recognising the profound impact of their work. These unsung heroes navigate the fine line between hope and despair, offering solace and support to those facing profound challenges.

From Gerda’s perspective, the work of a social worker is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. It’s about embracing the complexity of human experiences and, through unwavering compassion, guiding individuals towards healing and hope.

Gerda was born and raised in the Free State. She completed her pre- and post-graduate studies in Social Work at the University of the Free State. Growing up as one of two children, Gerda later married and has two grown children and four grandchildren.

Throughout her life, Gerda has primarily focused on her career, with interests in sewing, art, and culture. Interestingly, she initially planned to study drama and even secured a bursary for Drama at the University of the Free State. However, she changed her mind at the last minute, opting for Social Work instead. This decision has shaped her career trajectory, leading her to her current role at CANSA.

Gerda commenced her tenure with CANSA on 1 March 1991, transitioning from a private practice to serving as a social worker. Initially stationed in the “Bushveld Area,” encompassing Rustenburg, Gerda’s journey within CANSA has been marked by diverse roles and significant milestones.

In 2009, Gerda assumed the position of Provincial Director for CANSA North West Limpopo, a role she held until transitioning to a head office position. Initially tasked with health promotion, her responsibilities expanded, evolving into a pivotal service delivery role. In 2015, Gerda was appointed the Head of Services, tasked with driving initiatives to bolster CANSA’s service sustainability. Under her leadership, the organisation developed a definitive income model to ensure long-term viability.

Throughout her impressive 33-year tenure with CANSA, Gerda has held five distinct positions within the organisation. Since 2019, she has been a CANSA’s Executive Committee (EXCO) member, strategically shaping project development and organisational structures and contributing significantly to CANSA’s continued growth and impact.

Gerda reflects on her remarkable journey with CANSA, expressing profound appreciation for the growth opportunities her position has afforded her. From the beginning, Gerda has embraced the chance to further her studies, obtaining a diploma in play therapy and certification as a play therapist. Additionally, she holds a Health Management certificate from Yale University’s business school, which has equipped her to excel in her role and nurture her creativity.

However, beyond professional development, what truly resonates with Gerda is the opportunity to invest in people. As a social worker focused on patient care, she finds immense joy in fostering growth among staff and volunteers, witnessing their progress firsthand. Throughout her tenure, Gerda has spearheaded various projects and represented CANSA on numerous platforms, including presenting at the UICC three times on CANSA’s innovative navigation programmes.

Navigating the challenges of operating within an NGO with limited resources has been a test of resilience for Gerda and her team. Despite these hurdles, they have excelled at the forefront of growth and development. A standout achievement was the development of Tele Counselling during the lockdown, which evolved into an award-winning program, the international APPIS Innovator Awards.

Gerda draws inspiration from people’s stories of resilience and overcoming adversity. Life itself, with its myriad of opportunities, energises her. Her unwavering love for life fuels her passion for her work, driving her to continuously innovate and make a meaningful impact in the lives of others.

Her typical workday commences bright and early as she reviews her diary for the day’s agenda. By 7 AM, she’s already diving into calls, setting the tone for the day’s activities. Guided by her meticulously planned schedule, Gerda focuses primarily on staff management and devising innovative strategies to propel CANSA forward in the coming years.

Gerda shares touching anecdotes from her time as a social worker with CANSA. One story revolves around an elderly patient who, despite enduring great pain, always sets out her best cups and saucers for Gerda’s visits. Even while administering medication, their conversations brought warmth to difficult moments.

Another memory involves a young boy facing retinoblastoma. At just three years old, he eagerly awaited Gerda’s visits, running down the pathway as she approached the house, asking if she had brought his glass eye. These encounters highlight the resilience of those touched by CANSA’s care.

Her day unfolds, each task carefully aligned with her overarching objectives. Whether providing guidance to staff members or brainstorming new initiatives, Gerda’s dedication to advancing CANSA’s mission shines through. With a keen eye on the organisation’s future, she works tirelessly to chart a course for growth and sustainability over the next five years.


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