Dr Jack Preger has been working selflessly for the poor in Kolkata since 1980. But few heard his name as he’s self-effacing and always preferred keeping him out of public eye.
Preger graduated from St Edmund Hall, Oxford with a post-graduate degree in economics and political science. He worked for a few years as a farmer in Wales before selling his farm and deciding to become a doctor instead. In 1965, he was admitted into the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin at the age of 35.
In 1972, Dr Preger went to Bangladesh to help treat the millions of migrants fleeing persecution as a result of the Liberation War. In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, in 1975 he set up a clinic for mothers and children. Exposing a child-trafficking operation involving high-level authorities, he was arrested and deported in 1979, and his clinic was shut down.
Dr Preger moved to India, and worked for a while for Mother Teresa in Kolkata. As he “discovered that hands-on medicine and fervent religious devotion are not compatible,” he started treating people on the streets.
He started an open-air clinic on the pavement near St Thomas Presbytery in Kolkata. Hundreds of people get free medical treatment six days a week. There he worked for 14 years. A new movement was born: street medicine.
Dr Pregar had no licence to practise in India and had to fight for years for the right to treat patients at his clinic. Finally in 1991 he succeeded in registering relief agency Calcutta Rescue as an official non-governmental organisation. Today it is still serving the most socially and economically disadvantaged people of the region – regardless of gender, age, caste or religion.
Its mission: “Calcutta Rescue provides all services free of cost to poor people of Kolkata and rural West Bengal through health clinics, schools, vocational training and preventive health programmes. We aim to improve levels of health, education and earning opportunities for current and new service users.”
Today, Calcutta Rescue operates four clinics. “Better to light one candle than to sit in the dark. Be positive,” says Dr Pregar.