Published: 14th July 2021
This youngster's life's mission is to ensure that everyone has access to life and health insurance
Meghana Narayanan started Project Abhaya to help the underprivileged avail the existing health and life insurance schemes
Some experiences make you rethink your life's mission. For 17-year-old Meghana Narayanan, it was the unfortunate death of an acquaintance of hers. This young man, who used to sell water bottles on the pavement for a living, was the victim of a car accident and passed away due to insufficient medical coverage, leaving his wife and their unborn baby to fend for themselves. Meghna realised how a simple health or life insurance could have either saved his life or hugely benefitted his family. This, and several other experiences like this, especially during the pandemic, pushed her to think of a solution.
She did a bit of research and found out that almost 399 million Indians were under the risk of financial burden due to non-existent or insufficient health coverage. So, she decided to set up an initiative called Project Abhaya to help the underprivileged get access to health and life insurance. Within a short span of one year, Meghana, who is a part of the Future Leaders Programme by 1M1B has helped more than 700 underprivileged people in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka get insurance, including those working as domestic help, maids, sanitation workers and women workers in tailoring units.
What did Meghna do to help them? She began by exploring the existing schemes. She says, "There are a lot of government schemes that exist at very good rates and are very easy to avail, but it's just that there's not enough awareness about it or a lot of them are not literate to fill up the forms. I wanted my project to bridge the gap between the schemes and the workers. So, I started with people in my circle, like my household help and workers in my apartment. I started with life and health insurance. The only requirement is to have a bank account. So, I went and personally filled up forms for them and conducted awareness sessions." Later, in order to scale it up, she partnered with a few NGOs, one of which was Suruchi, an organisation that provides livelihood to underprivileged women. She identified a health insurance scheme in AP and managed to get health insurance for an entire tailoring unit team in the state.
It was then that the pandemic was declared and Meghana wanted to do something during this crisis too. So, she started a fundraiser through which she raised Rs 1,38,000. With this, she bought COVID-19 insurance, which is readily available online, for 260 sanitation workers who are employed by an organisation called Sambhav Foundation. The COVID-19 insurance can be bought online and gives you a coverage of about `50,000 in case you contract the virus. A few of the workers who got the insurance actually tested positive and the insurance helped them to a great extent.
When asked what the usual challenges are in availing these schemes, the 17-year-old says, "There are many banks that are reluctant to give out these forms. They take advantage of the illiteracy of domestic workers. We wanted to empower them to go to the banks themselves and when they did, they got screamed at and were asked to leave. Some bank employees refused to give them the forms. These are existing schemes and it is the bank's social responsibility to let you know about them and help you access them. But a lot of them were denied this. So, we had to personally go there and help them get something they are already entitled to. But this was just the case with a few banks."
Meghana now plans to create a website that will include a database of all the government schemes. She also hopes to recruit more volunteers.