DUBAI // When the coma patient Venkaiah Gangaram was flown home to India last month he was left in experienced hands for the flight.
Mr Gangaram, who has been in a coma since he was involved in an accident on a building site 11 months ago, was accompanied by the social worker Umarani Padmanabhan, who was there to ensure he was set up with free treatment on arrival. The Dubai resident travels to India between 12 and 15 times a year to return the remains of deceased workers, and about half a dozen times with sick patients.
In recognition of her work with underprivileged non-resident Indians, Mrs Padmanabhan received the Pravasi Mithra Award in Hyderabad last Sunday to mark International Migration Day. The award was presented to her by the National Domestic Workers Movement and Migrants Rights Council.
MB Reddy, the vice president of Migrants Rights Council, praised her efforts."So many people have benefited because of her," he said.
"She has been doing this for a long time and helps both migrant labourers and distressed domestic workers."
Mr Reddy said she had done great work during the illegal immigrant amnesty announced by the UAE Government in 2007. Since then, Mrs Padmanabhan says, the number of illegal workers has reduced greatly due to strict enforcement of rules.
"I don't see many illegal workers sleeping in the park or doing part-time jobs now," she said. "But any illegal worker who wants to return to their native country, we are always there to guide them."
Among those she has helped more recently is AK Gandhi, 24, a mentally disturbed man she returned to his mother's home in Mumbai last month. Mr Gandhi was arrested by the police when he was found roaming the streets of Ajman.
He was kept in Al Amal Hospital for two months before Mrs Padmanabhan came to his aid.
"The mother was in tears when she saw her son," she said. "She hugged me and thanked me for bringing her child back. It was an emotional moment.
"The mother, who works as a housemaid, could not have afforded to travel to Dubai to fetch him."
Mrs Padmanabhan was also in Chennai this month to return the remains of an illegal worker who died in Satwa.
"There was no one to go with him, so I accompanied the body and handed it over to the family," she said, adding that returning bodies was the most difficult part of her job.
"I am always worried about the family members crying when they see the body. It is the most difficult thing to handle. I feel sad, but I do it with a sense of responsibility to help people. It gives me immense happiness and satisfaction."
Mrs Padmanabhan started volunteering for these mercy trips more than 20 years ago when her husband, a businessman in Dubai, was in hospital with kidney stones.
"I used to go to the hospital and see patients sitting lonely and suffering," she said. "Initially I used to offer them food and speak to them so that they felt comfortable. But then I felt that I should do something concrete and help these poor workers."
Her husband, BS Padmanabhan, is proud of her total dedication to her work.
"I've always supported her and never object, even though it means she has to travel frequently," he said. "Her mother was a freedom fighter in India and I think she inherited this drive from her."
But Mrs Padmanabhan is quick to point out that her work would not be possible without the support of the Indian consulate and the UAE Government.
"They've been helping me all along," she said.
"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."