Kolkata’s ‘Barefoot’ doctor – Jack Preger
This 86 year old , British doctor has left quite a mark in the social service history (helping the poor and needy medically and otherwise) of Kolkata, the place where Mother Teresa herself set up her ‘Missionaries of Charity’ for the same reason.
Jack had also been a part of her organization when he first came to Calcutta, following which he started his make-shift clinics for the poor below the flyover connecting the Howrah Bridge. He often witnessed huge queues of ailing poor people who he would offer free medical services to.
Later he organized a charity based in Kolkata known as Calcutta Rescue. It runs medical, educational and support services to disadvantaged people in West Bengal, since 1972. In addition to free treatment for a range of diseases including tuberculosis, leprosy and diabetes, treatment is also provided for thalassaemia and malnutrition by a wide range of professional volunteers. It also manages a clinic for people marginalized by HIV/AIDS. It also trains people to make and sell handicrafts. Today, Calcutta Rescue operates three clinics, two schools and two vocational centers in West Bengal. It also employs 150 locally hired staff.
In 1993, Preger was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his “continued perseverance and incredible selflessness”
His life of social service is no less than a full-fledged Hindi movie. So much so that a Swiss photojournalist, made a documentary on him named ‘Doctor Jack — One Man, One Life One Fight’. His social work had got him deported from the then newly formed country of Bangladesh (he had brought to light a child-trafficking racket in spite of being warned against doing so). He was also jailed in Kolkata pertaining to his visa issues.
Dr. Preger does not treat patients anymore but he has a team of well trained doctors who do so.
What is Barefoot doctor?
The concept of barefoot doctor originated in China. Barefoot doctors were farmers who received minimal basic medical and paramedical training and worked in rural villages in the People’s Republic of China. Their purpose was to bring health care to rural areas where urban-trained doctors would not settle. They promoted basic hygiene, preventive health care, and family planning and treated common illnesses. The name comes from southern farmers, who would often work barefoot in the rice paddies.
Dr. Preger worked for a few years as a farmer in Wales before selling his farm and deciding to become a doctor instead and his legacy in still going strong.