He invented a hand-cranked washing machine, then gave it away for a very good reason

It’s easy to take for granted clean clothes when you’ve never had to wash your clothes on the rocks of a river or stream. One man has made it his mission to travel to Iraq and distribute his hand-cranked washing machines to the country’s poor. 

The machines were invented by Navjot Sawhney who wanted to make a device that would allow clothes to be washed without access to electricity or running water. Sawhney calls it the “Divya.”

Sawhney explained to the BBC, the name behind his life-changing invention. “Handwashing clothes is restrictive and painful. The Divya means women, who are usually the primary washers, have more time to rest,” 

He developed the idea for the washing machine after witnessing the struggles of a neighbor while he was volunteering in India. Sawhney knew that there were millions of others around the globe struggling and something had to be done. While washing machines are commonplace in the United States and much of Europe, that’s hardly the case for the rest of the world. Around 70% of the world’s population is believed to not have regular access to electric washing machines.

While Sawhney may not be able to alter that statistic much, he can still help the people of Iraq in a small way. This led the engineer and University of Bath student to set up the Washing Machine Project. It all started with a two-week trip in 2018. “To give them the dignity of clean clothes is very fulfilling,” Sawhney said. When you read the news, places like this [Iraq] can seem really daunting but the people here are like everyone else in the world. They just want their lives to go back to normal.” 

Since launching the project, it has expanded to include requests from 15 countries, including Afghanistan. “Everyone is worried about the situation in Afghanistan and what that may mean for the stability of the region, especially people like the Yazidis who we are supporting here, who have suffered so greatly at the hands of terrorist organizations. We’re really proud to be here to do our part,” he explained.

According to a YouTube video, Sawhney can produce the portable hand-cranked washing machines for around $30. The project partners with local mechanics, “teaching them how to repair the washing machines.” The plastic barrels are loaded up with clothes, some soap and water, and the user then uses a handle to crank the washing machine, spinning it around just as an electric washing machine operates. A plug then allows the water to drain out.

 Sawhney told the BBC that a great deal of the inspiration for developing the washing machines actually came from his father. His father fled India during an uprising and “became refugees overnight.” It was that impact on his own family that led to him wanting to make a difference for refugees today. 

“I think for refugees, in particular, it’s a very temporary phase in their life, and we as individuals should help them along their way.”

Photos via the Washing Machine Project/Facebook

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