x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Former Abu Dhabi Awards winner recalls humanitarian experiences

Isabelle Le Bon Poonoosamy, a Mauritian living in Abu Dhabi, was one of nine recipients of the Abu Dhabi Awards in 2009 for her service to the community.

Isabelle Le Bon Poonoosamy, the head of the Good Heart Foundation, won an  Abu Dhabi Award in 2009.
Isabelle Le Bon Poonoosamy, the head of the Good Heart Foundation, won an Abu Dhabi Award in 2009.

ABU DHABI // Volunteering has always been second nature for Isabelle Le Bon Poonoosamy, a Mauritian living in Abu Dhabi.

"I grew up in that environment from an early age thanks to my father and grandmother, who helped any way they could," said Mrs Le Bon Poonoosamy."

After working for charities in Mauritius and France, she signed up with Grameen Bank, the microfinancing institution in Bangladesh that won its founder, Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize.

After moving to the capital in 2005, Mrs Le Bon Poonoosamy started volunteering full-time with disabled children at the Special Care Centre.

"There's a life-changing experience when you realise how blessed you are," she said. "I wanted to do something for special-needs kids and their parents because it's not only the kids, it's also how you can assist the parents to overcome the hurdle."

In 2006, she established the Good Heart Foundation to raise funds for the centre and stop it closing. "They needed to get better facilities."

Mrs Le Bon Poonoosamy was one of nine recipients of the Abu Dhabi Awards in 2009 for her service to the community.

The awards, set up in 2005, recognise people for acts of charity and community service, whether at home or abroad. Nominations this year are up by 70 per cent since 2009, with the winners to be announced in December.

Mrs Le Bon Poonoosamy said her most memorable humanitarian experience was when she launched the Donate a Brick campaign in 2008 to build a special needs school in Al Bahia, a suburb of Abu Dhabi.

"The concept was Dh5 for a brick, 5 million bricks to collect. We wanted the community to be involved and anybody could afford this."

The campaign started in Zayed University and the first person to contribute Dh5 was the university's Indian janitor.

"You could see in his eyes that it was a lot of money," Mrs Le Bon Poonoosamy said.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, told her he would match the amount raised.

"Our target is to raise Dh25 million for a state-of-the-art school for special needs of all nationalities as there isn't such a school in Abu Dhabi," Mrs Le Bon Poonoosamy said. "So far we've raised Dh18m."

The school will help children and their families to improve their skills. Its 22,000 square metres will include an auditorium, gymnasium, hydrotherapy pool, clinic and library.

Mrs Le Bon Poonoosamy then established Nahtam with a friend.

"It's an organisation to serve other schools across the UAE," she said.

She has started to provide Al Noor School in Abu Dhabi with equipment such as computers.

Mrs Le Bon Poonoosamy said she had never expected the award.

"When I do charity work I don't expect to get any reward but it was excellent for the cause," she said.

"We are expats that are here for a short time and the youth of this country have an opportunity to do positive things."

cmalek@thenational.ae