ABU DHABI // Isabella Le Bon-Poonoosamy had no idea when she arrived at the Emirates Palace on Sunday night that her service to Abu Dhabi was about to be recognised by the Crown Prince. "I went to the event and didn't know what was going on," she said. "You were invited by the Crown Prince; you just say yes." Mrs Le Bon-Poonoosamy is the founder of the Good Heart Foundation, the fund-raising arm of the Special Care Centre in Abu Dhabi, which she helped to save from closure, and the co-founder of Nahtam, a group promoting social-responsibility activities.
The native of Mauritius was shocked when a short documentary featuring people she had worked with started showing on a projection screen at the Emirates Palace. But her thoughts were of her family, who had kept her selection as a winner of the Abu Dhabi Awards a secret. "It's good for my family. They suffer from this work. It means a lot of sacrifice, and for the family it was a reward," she said.
Mrs Le Bon-Poonoosamy was one of nine people recognised this year for their service to society, people whom Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, praised as individuals who "work quietly" with "magnanimity and perseverance". Also attending the event were Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior; Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs; Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade; and Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour.
The winners came from all walks of life. Mohammed al Suwaidi is a financial adviser to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, while Ousha al Suwaidi is an Emirati poet who has made considerable contributions in a field dominated by men. Manal Mahmoud Hamad, a Jordanian science teacher at a school in Madinat Zayed, has worked to make children aware of environmental issues. Saleh al Ya'rabi has been in a wheelchair since the age of 18 and came to Abu Dhabi from Oman in 1978. He has written newspaper articles as well as several books and given motivational talks at schools and colleges. When he came on stage in his wheelchair, Sheikh Mohammed knelt beside him and kissed his forehead.
Latife Tabrizi, a Turkish teacher, volunteered full-time for more than a decade at the Centre for Rehabilitation for the Disabled in Al Ain, where she moved in 1970. Dr Abdul Rahman Makhlouf was directly responsible for the planning of Abu Dhabi's city centre and has lectured across the region on urban planning in the Arab world. Mohammed al Tamimi, who founded the first formal school in Al Ain in 1955, and Hamouda bin Hamouda, who is credited with modernising working practices during his time with the police and, later, the interior ministry, were awarded posthumously.
The awards are the culmination of a six-month process in which Abu Dhabi residents nominated people whom they felt should be recognised for their social contribution. More than 16,000 were nominated. "For me it's an honour really because it means that this country recognises hard work," said Mrs Le Bon-Poonoosamy. "I hope this will inspire other expats or locals to find something and tackle some of the issues that are around us."
The awards were founded in 2005. Winners are given the Abu Dhabi Medal, the emirate's highest civilian honour. firstname.lastname@example.org