How Project Aushad began in Chennai, under the stewardship of Shobana Kamineni and Mythili Sriram
It all began with a farewell party. “In 2005 or so, we held a school reunion gathering at which about 8 members of our school’s former staff were also invited. Sister Anna Mary, who worked in our school’s front office, was one of them,” says Mythili Sriram (in picture: back row, third from left), now a trustee with the Billion Hearts Beating, then president of Citizen for Safe Roads, and was also looking after various social projects in Chennai.
The nun had no living relatives, and after retirement, was living in a Christian-missionary-run home in Chennai. She suffered from a variety of health problems for which she was taking numerous medicines. “Sister Anna Mary called me after the reunion meeting and asked for medical assistance because she couldn’t afford to purchase all of them,” says Mythili, who then brought it up with Shobana Kamineni (in picture: centre), now executive vice president, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd. She promptly set up free monthly medicine delivery for the sister.
That sowed the seeds for Project Aushad. But it was only years later that the small gesture took a formal turn, and grew in scope and reach.
“In 2010, I joined Apollo Hospitals as a CSR projects consultant. During one of our meetings, Shobana and I discussed potential CSR projects. We came up with the concept of providing free medicines to senior citizens’ homes as a follow-up to our gesture with Sister Anna Mary. As a result, on November 12, 2014, Project Aushad was launched,” says Mythili.
“From the beginning, Shobana Kamineni and Jayanthi Swaminathan, Sr. General Manager, Apollo Hospitals Educational and Research Foundation then were very encouraging and stood with me throughout the journey,” she says.
It was a sense of purpose and a passion to serve that set the project up on a firm foundation. But there was a great deal of work to be done. The first person on her team was Anandha Babu E, who now heads the Tamilnadu operations, and the second was Vedhu Bhairavan C, who now runs a finance company in Chennai.
For starters, there was the name: “We wanted to name this project with an A, like Apollo,” says Mythili. “Aushad felt appropriate because the project is about distributing free medicines to senior citizens.” Plus, most Indian languages recognize the word, setting the stage for later expansion.
The first step was to identify deserving senior care homes. But how does one decide who is deserving? So, they put in place a few criteria: one, that the home had to offer free boarding and lodging to residents; two, that it had to be registered with all the proper government documentation. This was a challenge, because many homes didn’t have the required paperwork. “I took each step very carefully,” she explains, describing how the vision was kept in mind at every juncture.
Her crew worked tirelessly to gather information and do background checks on each home. Thinking back to what it took to on-board the first 15, she says it was “persistence, patience, dedication, and empathy”.
She planned, liaised, and set the tone in the first year: “There was enormous support from colleagues, associates, bureaucrats, sponsors, media, friends, and family,” she says, adding that care and respect have been the core values while reaching out to homes.
As the project spread to other states, the need to involve more people arose, with an eye on hiring hard workers. Mythili cites an example from a recent occurrence: “I saw an injured dog in a neighbourhood park. The watchman and I tried calling numerous animal care organizations, but we got no response.” They also reached out to social media influencers who work in the animal rights space. No one showed up. The watchman spent more than 10 hours with the dog until help came. “It’s people like the watchman that Project Aushad needs – those who are willing to work on the ground, do the daily grind,” she says.
Now that the project is in 8 states and 151 homes, she looks back with a sense of accomplishment, and stresses that it’s important never to lose sight of the primary goal: to supply prescription medicines to seniors who do not have access for a variety of reasons.
Mythili Sriram requested guests at her son’s wedding to donate to Chennai-based NGOs The Banyan and Vishranthi Charitable Trust, a home for elderly women, both of which BHB serves with medicines. If you would like to suggest that your guests give to a cause, rather than buy gifts, click here.