An Indian-origin Sikh engineer has won UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Points of Light Award for designing an energy-efficient manual washing machine for displaced and low-income communities.
London-based Navjot Sawhney’s hand-cranked washing machine is benefitting over 1,000 families without access to an electric machine.
Navjot set up ‘The Washing Machine Project’ some four years ago, with over 300 machines distributed worldwide so far to places including refugee camps, schools and orphanages.
“Winning the Points of Light award and getting recognised by the Prime Minister is a phenomenal privilege,” Sawhney said after receiving the award.
“The Washing Machine Project’s mission is to alleviate the burden of unpaid labour, mainly on women and children. I’m so proud that giving back the dignity of clean clothes to those who hand wash them is getting the recognition it deserves,” Sawhney added.
The machine is named after his neighbour Divya in India, who would spend up to 20 hours each week washing her family’s clothes — a burden which prevented her from pursuing paid work and caused her to suffer skin irritations and back pain.
The machine can help save up to 50 per cent of water and 75 per cent of time compared to handwashing clothes.
Navjot’s machines are also helping Ukrainian families who have been forced to flee their homes and are currently living in humanitarian aid centres.
In a personal letter to Navjot, Sunak said: “You have used your professional skills as an engineer to help thousands of people around the world who don’t have access to electric washing machines”.
Sunak said that the machines are giving families the “dignity of clean clothes” and empowering many women who have been held back from education and employment.
“Your ingenuity, compassion and dedication to improving the lives of others is an inspiration to us all,” Sunak wrote in the letter.
Previously employed by ‘Dyson’ that manufactures vacuum cleaners, Navjot wanted to use his skills to improve quality of life for disadvantaged communities.
While volunteering in India with ‘Engineers Without Borders’ he saw the disproportionate burden placed on women to carry out hand-washing, inspiring him to design a manual, off-grid and fully sustainable machine.
The Points of Light recognises outstanding individual volunteers who are making a change in their community.