WJ Christian is sitting on the floor of his shed, tools, spare parts, scrap iron and cables are piled up around him. Happy screeching sounds can be heard from the area behind Christian's wooden crate, which is surrounded by a thick fence - four boys are trying out the new showers. Before the public communal open air shower was installed i, you could only wash in the nearby stream.
The showers are part of the Fair Trade water project and there is a reason why they were built right behind Mr Christian's workshop: he can reach them without help. The 52-year-old contracted polio as a baby, his legs are bent and without muscles, and he can only move with difficulty on all fours. “The water project has made me much more independent,” he says. Now, not only can he bathe without help, but the villagers have also installed one of the 12 common drinking water taps directly behind Mr Christian's house, which means that he doesn't have to constantly ask his aunt or neighbours to fetch him water.
Everyone was happy to help him, because WJ Christian is known for his craftsmanship - if he cannot repair it, it really belongs in the trash. In 1995, in just six months, he constructed a fully motorized tricycle, low enough that he could get on and off without any problems. Since then, he not only drives to church on Sundays, but he can also reach customers all over the plantation - whether someone needs new, hand-made wooden window frames or a fan needs to be fitted with a new cable. With his talent and his precise way of working, WJ now has a reputation that extends beyond the boundaries of the plantation. But he does most of his work in his workshop: more than 20 years ago, a plantation manager asked him if he could sharpen the rubber tappers' knives - of course, WJ Christian could and still does. It takes him about an hour to fix the draft knife, which resembles a wood chisel, and to make it usable again. He sharpens up to 10 knives a day, gets Rs 180 each and, along with his other jobs, earns enough to live on.
The fair trade water project benefits 72 families, six families each share a drinking water tap and all use the four showers. Each family paid a one-off sum of Rs 100 to install the tap and Rs 20 a month to use the water. The money is collected by the members of the water committee, who in turn are responsible for the regular control and maintenance of the taps and supply lines - this means that the families pay for a service that the water committee has to provide.
The members of the Fair Trade Committee are of the opinion that a small financial contribution from the beneficiaries leads them to see the project as their own and to deal with it responsibly. Families will be able to buy water meters later this year (the cost is Rs 2000 and can be paid off over two years). Only then will separate pipes be laid so that every family will have a water connection directly in their house. A big change in a community in which up to now the nearest water source dried up for two to three months a year and every litre of water had to be carried more than 500 meters from another source.
The families live in buildings called 'Lines', a form of accommodation introduced by the British in the 19th century on rubber and tea plantations. Each family lives in two rooms in an elongated, single-storey building that is accessible from a veranda. But with the temple, the bus stop and a huge peepul tree, the 'Lines' in Udabage almost have the character of a small village. And the residents obviously have a sense of community and a sense of responsibility - that the showers would be built as close as possible to WJ Christian's house and workshop was clear from the start.