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Magic Train Chugs Along-The Lifeline Express, The World's First Hospital on a Train, Reaches Remote Twilight Zones Where a Doctor Is as Invisible as Hope

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from Tehelka, India, September 8, 2005.

"The results show success--more than we ever imagined," says Zelma Lazarus, CEO of Impact India Foundation, which runs the "Magic Train". Also known as Lifeline Express, they quietly move around the towns and villages of India conducting operations on split lips, visual impairments, other facial corrections and limb operations. "A minimum team of 40 surgeons and doctors donate their services daily on our train," says Lazarus.

The Lifeline Express has, over the last ten years, restored sight, movement, hearing and corrected cleft lips of over 300,000 disabled children and adults in 52 projects covering 16 states in the country. There are too many magic stories which run with the magic train.

A tribal couple waited with their three small children to be admitted on the train. They were born blind. There seemed little hope for them, "but we did not give up," says Lazarus. "Their case histories were faxed to the World Health Organization in Geneva and the prompt response informed us that a world-famous eye surgeon was passing through Delhi that very day en route to Japan. Today, all three children can see."

The volunteers are totally committed. Two young people, a boy from Canada and a girl from Australia, volunteering on the train, met and got married. On their wedding day, they requested guests to bless them not with gifts and flowers, but with contributions to the Magic Train.

The Lifeline Express, the world's first hospital on a train, is a unique collaboration with the Union government in taking a hospital to people in remote areas.

"Our reach is across the vast Indian subcontinent with 600,000 villages using the entire Indian railways--70,000 km of rail track--the largest in the world. Who would have ever thought that we would have made it this far along the track?"

The train has completed 75 projects in almost all the states of India and has medically served about 400,000 disabled poor in the remotest parts of the country.

Not to mention its six-month mission of mercy at the earthquake site in Gujarat in 2001, where it was the only hospital in the area; the others had crumbled.

"We were the first to arrive. We were in the middle of a sponsored project when we just had to leave. The Express was the only hospital for miles and miles. Donations started pouring in from abroad and we ended up staying there for six months," says Lazarus.

The Lifeline Express continues its mission not only in India, but also in China with three trains, a train in Central Africa, and a riverboat hospital in Bangladesh.

"We are now focusing on a replicable pilot project for India. Our aim is to reduce disability among one million people by 50 percent in the tribal belt of Thane District in Maharashtra in Palghar, Talaseri, Jawhar,

Dahanu and Mokhada Blocks," says Lazarus.

They've already started identifying 50,000 school children for hearing and vision disabilities and providing them with corrective glasses. "This is just a start-up project," says Lazarus.

For its selfless service, Lifeline Express received the United Nations Award for Excellence in Public Service worldwide in the year 1994. This is a wonderful experiment where professionals donate their time, their talent, and their lives to become volunteers in such large numbers.

"This is largely due to the credibility we have established. We don't make big promises and then fail to live up to our commitments. Whatever we do, we do it with great pride and as best as we can," says Lazarus.

You can now understand why the Express is magic to those who, after years of suffering, discover that their wounds too can be healed.

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