She is fondly called Amma, Umachechi, Umadidi or ma’am depending on who she is assisting. And all of those who have been living since long in the UAE know her too. It’s been almost three decades and counting. Umarani Padmanabhan – the hope for those in dire need lends her time, effort and empathy to the sick, distressed, undocumented and lonely expatriates who face innumerable problems in a foreign country.
She keeps busy and for a good reason. She not only visits patients struggling with mental health issues or those suffering from HIV, Cancer, Hepatitis B, TB or Brain Tumor, but also requests authorities to waive off their medical bills before assisting to repatriate them to their hometown.
It’s no wonder she is usually referred to as the ‘messiah’ for the underprivileged expats – especially the migrant labourers and distressed domestic workers.
Helping illegal workers, mostly without passports, repatriating human remains and performing local cremation and regularly visiting the immigration jail to assist with the emergency certificate (travel document), are some of the services Umarani offers for those in need. It’s no wonder she is usually referred to as the ‘messiah’ for the underprivileged expats – especially the migrant labourers and distressed domestic workers.
And what inspires her is the sheer joy and an innate satisfaction of lending a helping hand. “Being there for someone and making a difference in their life makes all my efforts worthwhile.”
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Umarani, officially known as Independent Alternative Dispute Resolution Professional, is always by your side; all you need to do is to ask. “I always answer all my calls, even if I’m about to go to sleep, because it could be a matter of life or death for the caller,” says the Indian social worker.
She relentlessly works with the local authorities and the respective consulates of the various nationalities she comes across. “I would like to especially thank Dubai Police and the Immigration officials who trust me and help in completing all the formalities.”
Meanwhile, she does not fail to give credit where it is due. “The Indian Consulate has been providing free air tickets to sick patients and is also bearing my travel expenses so that I can accompany the patients or the dead bodies.”
I always answer all my calls, even if I’m about to go to sleep, because it could be a matter of life or death for the caller.
Umarani has not kept a list of the number of people she has helped over the years, but she remembers that she started volunteering some thirty years ago. “I do not keep a count of the people I help. That’s not the focus anyways.”
Her husband, BS Padmanabhan, a businessman, was instrumental in shaping her philanthropic activity after he was rushed to hospital in 1990 due to complications with kidney stones. “I used to be by his bedside in Rashid Hospital, Dubai, and there I noticed that there were many patients who did not have anybody other than the nurses and doctors to care or talk to,” she says. “Their families were back in their home country and they were yearning for somebody to talk to or to listen to their worries and problems.”
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On some days she would sit by their bedside and talk to them, cheer them and also get home-cooked food and little gifts for them. Many of them couldn’t afford to contact their families back home regularly, so Umarani would offer to do so on their behalf to update the families about their condition.
Gradually her social work started taking precedence and she began getting more involved in her spare time says Umarani, who had been working with the HR department of the Canadian Immigration Services at the time.
Taking home-cooked food for those recuperating in hospital soon led her to volunteer for these mercy trips and accompany sick patients on return flights to their home country. Finding her initiative to be extremely fulfilling, ‘Amma’ began to expand her scope of helping people. “Each step is a learning experience, as each case is individual in nature and different from each other.”
Their families were back in their home country and they were yearning for somebody to talk to or to listen to their worries and problems.
How to tackle issues, what documents are required for police clearances, papers required at the Immigration Department and the consulates, laws regarding people who have reneged on loan repayments…, you name it and she has dealt with as many of them as are.
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Umarani sites the case when on one occasion she had to carry the human remains of a young boy aged 23. He was returning home to Chennai, India, fell sick at the airport and died at the hospital after three days. After completing all the formalities, she carried his body to handover to his family. But they refused to accept him, as they were expecting compensation instead. She had to take up the case with the airport police to sort it out.
The lady with a giving heart, admits that while it is a very satisfying and gratifying experience, it does take its toll on her. Seeing relatives cry on receiving their deceased, being with critically ill patients, visiting jail inmates and being on the go at all times to work out the papers, does drain her energy.
Nonetheless, her unconditional support for the destitute has not gone unnoticed. She has received a clutch of awards: Appreciation award from the Dubai Department of Health, Pravasi Mithra Award from the Migrants Counsel Asia in Andhra Pradesh and an appreciation award from Telengana NRI Association, Dubai.
She admits that it is the relentless support and encouragement from her husband and two daughters, that helps her to go on. Her maxim has always been: “Never give up and keep your faith because there is always someone there willing to lend a helping hand.”
Moreover, meditation, prayers, yoga and breathing exercises is what helps put Umarani on her feet, day in and day out, with added vigour and zeal to make a difference in someone’s life.
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Listening to people, Yasmeen Maqbool acquaints herself to their life’s feature. What inspires and encourages, she’s always on the lookout for ‘passionistas’ and weaves their stories to bring to you the movers and shakers of today! Her only other true indulgence is spending quality time with her green fingers while listening to Jagjit Singh ‘ghazals’.