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Dubai: After four decades in Dubai, well-known social worker Umarani Padmanabhan is leaving the UAE to settle down in her native India.

Over the years, Padmanabhan, 58, has helped hundreds of people in distress, including chronically ill people without documents and relatives who need to repatriate deceased loved ones, even accompanying unclaimed bodies on the flight home to handover to their families.

The former HR employee of a Canadian immigration consultancy, began helping others, regardless of where they were from or who they are - after she spent a month in Rashid Hospital with her husband who was undergoing treatment for a kidney ailment.

Well known social worker Umarani Padmanabhan leaves UAE after 40 years Sonia Shah, Videographer

“I could see many poor and lonely expatriate patients who did not have any resources or relatives here,” she said. “Initially I started giving them food but later I realised that I have a bigger role.”

Her work involved seeking help from the Indian consulate and UAE government officials from immigration and police departments, as well as the wider expatriate community.

The Indian Consulate looked to her in cases of undocumented workers not just from her home state of Andhra Pradesh but also from other states during amnesty.

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Uma Paddy with a distressed worker at Hyderabad airport

In recognition of her work, she received the Pravasi Mithra Award.

Social work and philantrophy aside, she is also actively involved in several Telugu and Tamil socio-cultural associations, and when it comes to Hindu religious ceremonies, she is often called on to conduct pujas (ritual prayers performed by Hindus) given her standing in society.

The Telugu community held a farewell for Uma Paddy, as she is affectionately known, this week.

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Indian expatriates with Uma Paddy at the farewell hosted for the social worker at India Club in Dubai. Image Credit: Nagarjuna Rao/Gulf News

Geetha Ramesh of Wave Resonance Events said, “She is an inspiration to many with her exemplary social work, like a mother to all of us.

“I used to trouble her all the time over the phone whenever I needed her help or advice.”

Jyoti Kapoor, a friend of Padmanabhan’s added, “Her energy, enthusiasm and compassion towards people who need her is known to everybody. What was most striking about her when I first met, was the fact that there was this human being in Dubai who went with human cargo - unaccompanied dead bodies - and handed over the remains to their relatives. It brought me to tears.

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Uma Paddy’s friends and acquaintances at her farewell party hosted at India Club, Dubai Image Credit: Nagarjuna Rao/Gulf News

“She is a remarkable soul and I am so fortunate to have met her. I have very mixed feelings about her leaving, I feel happy that she is going back to her hometown, but Dubai is going to lose a gem. A real pearl of Dubai.”

Another friend Radhika Sriram, said, “Actually I am not going to miss her because I’ll be leaving for Hyderabad very soon and she is coming to stay in Hyderabad so it’s like a home coming for us. We will keep meeting her, but people here in Dubai are definitely going to miss her. Now that social media is quite prevalent she will be touch with all of us,” Sriram added.

Juleria, another acquaintance, said, “I was surprised by her helping nature because when I was all alone here and missing my family she was like a mother to me and taught me everything. Today I am what I am is because of her and she is a source of inspiration to many.”

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Uma Paddy’s friends and acquaintances at her farewell party hosted at India Club, Dubai. Image Credit: Nagarjuna Rao/Gulf News

Padmanabhan said although she is leaving she would always be available.

“I learned from each and every case over the 31 years that I have been doing social service. I am thankful to the local authorities like immigration, police and even the cremation workers and all my friends who always trust me. I am [just like] a drop [of water] in the ocean [in what I did],” she said.

“Here, whenever I go to any department they keep asking me what am I going to do after going back. They want me to stay back [here]. Whenever somebody needs me, I will definitely come back. Even in India I am associated with a few organisations that are involved in social work. Hopefully I will continue with my work throughout my life,” she added.