India, a country where 276 million people live below the poverty level, many basic requirements such as water, electricity, food, clothes, and shelter are luxury.
For the 28-year-old, London born engineer Nav Sawhney, a trip to Kuilapalayam village near Pondicherry was a sobering reminder of this reality. Witnessing the plight of Indian women washing clothes with their bare hands motivated Sawhney to develop a manual washing machine that saves time and is water efficient.
Speaking exclusively to The Logical Indian, Sawhney recalled his visit to India and how he conceived the idea of the hand-cranked washing machine.
In 2016, Sawhney, took a sabbatical from his job, and joined a UK based charity – Engineers Without Borders, where he was assigned a project to provide clean and efficient chullas to people in a village in Pondicherry.
” I always had this feeling in the back of my head that I could help a lot of people once I get to know their problems.”
It was during his stay in the village, he noticed that his neighbours did not have access to electricity and spend multiple hours to do chores, which merely took minutes to get done back at his home with advanced appliances.
In the village Sawhney became friends with a lady called Divya. The sight of her washing the entire family’s clothes with her hands for hours etched in his memory.
“Divya was the only friend I had in the village as she was fluent in English. It was during our chats I got to know that washing clothes was causing her serious back pain.”
Understanding, Divya’s problem made Sawhney realise that the condition in other households in the locality was no better. To understand further he conducted a small survey with 10 simple questions.
“The questions such as the detergent they used, number of clothes they washed per day, or availability of electricity at their place, gave me a rough idea about the pain these women incurred,” explains Sawhney.
From his survey he found out that women end up spending 20 hours per week washing clothes and waste 40 litre of water in the process. “ Imagine, if they all had washing machines at their homes, they could have utilised the time in a more efficient way by doing something productive”, said Sawhney.
With all this information put together, along with an itch to help the needy ones, Sawhney developed the idea of making manual washing machine.
After finishing his clean chulla project, Sawhney returned to London. He worked meticulously on his plan and developed a hand-cranked washing machine which can wash 10 kgs of clothes per cycle.
A conventional washing machine has the ability to wash 7.5 kg to 12 kgs clothes . The self-made washing machine have three types of wash: wash phase, clean phase, and a dry phase. “To complete an entire cycle of washing clothes, the washing machine will only take 15 minutes,” Sawhney said.
The manual washing machine will only consume 10 litres of water to complete a cycle of washing.
Once the prototype was complete, the United Nations helped Sawhney and his team to pilot their manual washing machine in various IDP (internally displaced people) camps in Iraq. “We took our prototype and installed it in the camps to test the washing machine and garner feedback. The results were phenomenal,” said Sawhney.
Pricing the washing machine was a real challenge, as the machine had to be cheap to help people from all sections of the world. “During my stay in India, I understood that up to a certain amount, women in rural areas had the liberty to spend, after that they had to take permission from their husbands. I wanted to price the washing machine in a range where women could buy the product without seeking permission from anyone”, added Sawhney.
The price was fixed at $ 35 or Rs 2,400, which is one-fourth the price of a standard washing machine in India.
Sawhney will be returning to India in December this year with a prototype to gift it to Divya.
The Logical Indian applauds Nav Sawhney for his efforts for the marginalised women in India and abroad.