Nisreen Ebrahim empowers the urban poor of Mumbai’s slums (VIDEO)

Nisreen Ebrahim empowers the urban poor of Mumbai’s slums (VIDEO)

Pooja PatelUpdated: Monday, June 17, 2024, 10:08 AM IST
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Nisreen Ebrahim, CEO, Rangoonwala Foundation (India) Trust |

Through community centres, student scholarships and assistance for the chronically ill, Rangoonwala Foundation (India) Trust has brought change to Mumbai's slums.

More than three decades ago when Nisreen Ebrahim came to Mumbai from Ahmedabad, she found the megapolis starkly different from other places she had been to — the problems of the urban poor were much more complex here. “I think the primary reason is that space in this city is at a premium. As slums are extremely congested, the issues that arise due to that get so much more magnified,” says Ebrahim, who co-founded Rangoonwala Foundation (India) Trust in 2003 to cater to the needs of the urban poor in Mumbai’s slums. 

Ebrahim co-founded the trust 21 years ago with the late Adil Kajiji and Vaishali Deodhar. She had observed that there was a dearth of physical spaces, particularly for women and children, safe spaces with activities for them. 


Beneficiaries from the city's slums at a centre of the Rangoonwala Foundation (India) Trust

Beneficiaries from the city's slums at a centre of the Rangoonwala Foundation (India) Trust |

“So we started centres that focussed on their development needs, mainly health and capacity building,” says the CEO. Currently, they have eight community centres in the slums of Mumbai — three in Jogeshwari, two in Andheri, two in Malad, one in Kandivali. 

RF(I)T’s work on a community intervention programme through these community centres in slums is their biggest programme. 

A major area of work here is empowering women. As Ebrahim says, “Women in our city live a pressure cooker existence.”

The centres are designed as a safe space for women whose days are otherwise dedicated to families, daily chores, jobs and carework. “We have to encourage them to focus on themselves and to take out a little time off for themselves,” she says.  

Once women regularly start visiting the centre, they get a range of  skill training sessions and initiatives towards their health. “And we have woven processes which will lead to their empowerment,” says Ebrahim. 

Their Utkarsh Youth Development Programme provides scholarship support for higher education for youth from slums. Another field that RF(I)T has been extremely successful at is the capacity-building programme, which they implement through a training centre that focuses on entrepreneurship development. “When we work in urban slums, we need to create sustainability and our own resources. So we focus a lot on training of trainers,” she says. 

While the NGO’s Ummed Health Programme works with patients across the city irrespective of the ailment, their work with patients and family members of chronic kidney disease (CKD) has had far reaching effects.  

“When we started work on health, it was with a primary focus of financial assistance for patients, as they cope with long running and high-cost treatments. Long-term treatments of ailments change the socio-economic fabric of the family completely. So providing financial aid eases the burden on the family,” explains the CEO.  Ebrahim realised that unlike HIV and cancer, most people are not aware that CKD patients are saddled with lifelong treatment costs, even if they're fortunate enough to get a kidney transplant. 

Kidney failure patients who are on dialysis need to go to a dialysis centre at least twice or thrice a week. The patients and their families, apart from the treatment costs, also have to bear the commuting costs. And most of them, despite their health issues, still use public transport. “Imagine how these patients with their AV fistula implanted in their arms and catheters hanging around from the thigh would manage to commute to the centre,” she says. Thanks to RF(I)T’s advocacy work and policy-influencing campaign, today, across seven municipal corporations, CKD patients have managed to get access to disability seats and concessional travel.

In the last 21 years, RF(I)T has reached more than 30 lakh people through outreach programmes; supported more than 5,500 students for their education; and helped more than 18,000 patients for long running and high-cost medical treatments.

Dr Priti Bhargava, President of General Practitioners Association of Greater Mumbai

Dr Priti Bhargava, President of General Practitioners Association of Greater Mumbai |

Dr Priti Bhargava, family physician and President of General Practitioners Association of Greater Mumbai, who has known of the foundation’s work for 19 years, says that such large-scale change on the ground has been possible because Ebrahim has been extremely committed to the cause. The doctor adds that she has never seen her deviate from her social work and that she has been hyper-focussed on bringing change in people’s lives. “I have known Nisreen since 2005 since they started their first community centre in Jogeshwari. While the NGO has done far-reaching work, I think the most commendable change they have managed to achieve is the way their centres have groomed the women. These women from the slums, after regularly attending the centre, have become extremely confident in life and are full of hope and dreams — women of all age groups!”  

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