Meet the 88 YO Jack Preger, the ‘Father of Street Medicines’, who has been aiding Kolkata for decades
Poverty in India has been a big issue since long. Most of the population in India falls under the poverty line and Kolkata is no different. Most of us do not care to help the poor ones out but there are some people who are kind enough to lead the line.
And Sovabazar’s Jack Preger is one such human being with a heart of gold. He travels to slums in Calcutta to talk to the residents and find out whether they were getting medicines.
Preger, who was inducted into The Telegraph Education Foundation Hall of Fame 2018 at The TelegraphSchool Awards for Excellence 2018 on Saturday, is an Oxford graduate and alumnus of the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland. He was quoted as saying by the Metro:
“I studied medicine to work in Third World situations and this was the kind of work I wanted to do”
According to The Telegraph, Barry O’Brien, the convener of The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence, introduced the Briton who had settled in Calcutta in 1979 as:
“This crazy doctor actually goes out in search of his patients and when the police move his patients he goes out in search of where his patients have gone”
Preger, 88, feels that he is not worthy of the honour. He said:
“It is a matter of great pride to be inducted into The Telegraph Education Foundation Hall of Fame 2018 but it’s not me alone but the people who have worked together”
Preger set up Calcutta Rescue in 1980 to “treat the sick and the injured where they lay, under bridges, on railway platforms and in drainage pipes”. The organisation was registered much later, in 1991.
The old man would do it all for his patients. From noting down the name and details, writing out the medicines to buying the medicines from a pharmacy near the Howrah Bridge, Preger would take care of his patients as loyally as possible. He recounted:
“The next day the medicines would be distributed. But then the police started to remove them from these locations and I couldn’t find where they were”
A priest in Middleton Row gave him a place to keep the medicines and he started running his clinic from a pavement along the road. He added:
“I told the patients to come and wait in Middleton Row and I would see and treat them there and that’s how our clinic started”
Through most of the 1980s the clinic functioned from a 70m-stretch of the pavement. The examination room, he said, was “simply a piece of cloth held up to provide some measure of privacy”.
The dream is a reality now and they are doing a job worth admiring. Calcutta Rescue now runs four clinics and two mobile clinics in the city, treating around 17,000 patients annually. It also runs three schools where 700 children aged between four and 18 study.
Preger’s visits to slums have been irregular since May, following a surgery. The baton, he said, will be passed on to his team at Calcutta Rescue as he plans to retire. He was unable to attend the awards ceremony because of the surgery.
Preger, who had studied economics at Oxford University before pursuing a course in medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland from 1965 to 1971, exposed a child-trafficking operation (in Bangladesh) implicating people in high authority.
But he is not yet satisfied with what he has done so far. He said:
“We have a street medicine project – two mobile clinics going out to about to 26 settlements. These people live under terrible conditions along canals…. they never emerge from those settlements unless they are thrown out by the police…. You can’t feel content with that kind of situation.”
We salute this man from the bottom of our heart and honestly, we need more such Jack Pregers to make a better India.