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UK Sikh engineer’s low-cost washing machine reaches India soon

London: The project of a London-born, Indian-origin engineer to supply low-cost washing machines to countries like India, where handwashing of clothes is still a time-consuming process, has got off to a great start following field research conducted in Iraqi camps.

The Washing Machine Project was set up three years ago by Navjot Sawhney to supply energy-efficient manual washing machines to low-income regions, and Navjot and volunteers have been conducting research ahead of supplies.

The organization has also launched a crowdfunding campaign on Just Giving to raise 10,000 pounds to help with the delivery process. ‘At the Washing Machine Project, we believe in the power of innovation to empower lives. That is why we have developed an off-grid, manual washing machine, which saves 60-70 percent of time and 50 percent of water, for people in low-income and displaced communities,’ says the charity’s fundraising campaign. ‘This idea was born out of a friendship. Nav, our founder, was on a sabbatical in rural South India, making clean cookstoves when he met his neighbour, Divya. It was through their conversations at the end of each day that Nav came to realise the significant burden unpaid labour places on women,’ it notes.

When Mr. Sawhney was on sabbatical from his engineering career in the UK, the idea of a manual washing machine struck him. ‘While in Tamil Nadu, I lived in a small village called Kuilapalayam. The community had limited access to continuous electricity, and water was switched on twice a day,’ Sawhney recalls. ‘My next-door neighbour Divya and I became excellent friends. While we talked, she would hand wash her clothes. I was always so shocked at how long and how much effort it would take to conduct the relatively unproductive task,’ he said.

He derived inspiration from a simple salad spinner to design his manual washing machine, the ‘Divya 1.5’. With the help of Care International, 30 of the Divya 1.5 will be used at the Mamrashan Refugee Camp in Iraq. In total, it is expected to benefit 300 people and save up to 750 hours annually per household, equivalent to two months of daylight. Sawhney plans to assist in the distribution of machines in Iraq at the beginning of September.

The Washing Machine Project plans to fulfill orders for refugee camps in Jordan later this year. These machines will eventually be shipped to other parts of the world, including India and Africa.

‘It is not just Divya who bears this burden. We have spoken to women and communities in 11 different countries around the world, including Lebanon, the Philippines and Cameroon. In those communities, we have met children as young as 6 who have begun helping with this task. This is detrimental not just to their education but also to their childhoods; to being children,’ notes the project. ‘There are many health risks associated with hand-washing clothes, notably contracting infections and water-borne diseases from direct contact with contaminated water sources,’ it adds.


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