A British Sikh engineer behind an energy efficient manual washing machine for low-income groups around the world, inspired by his volunteering work in India, has won Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Points of Light Award.
UK Points of Light are outstanding individual volunteers – people who are making a change in their community.
Navjot Sawhney, who set up his Washing Machine Project around four years ago, was honoured for his hand-cranked machine invention which can be operated in regions without electricity.
Sawhney described the experience of winning the award from Sunak, announced earlier this month, as “surreal” after the British Indian leader praised his “ingenuity and compassion”.
“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 wrote in a personal letter to Sawhney.
“Your innovative, hand-cranked washing machines are giving families the dignity of clean clothes and the time you are saving them is empowering many women who have been held back from education and employment,” he said.
“I know that your machines are also helping Ukrainian families who have been forced to flee their homes and are currently living in humanitarian aid centres. Your ingenuity, compassion and dedication to improving the lives of others is an inspiration to us all,” he added.
Previously employed by Dyson, the technology firm well known for vacuum cleaners, Sawhney wanted to use his skills to improve the quality of life for disadvantaged communities.
It was while volunteering in southern India with “Engineers Without Borders” that he saw the disproportionate burden placed on women to carry out handwashing, inspiring him to design a manual, off-grid and fully sustainable machine which saves 50 per cent on water compared to handwashing, and 75 per cent on time.
He named his first machines after his neighbour Divya and the Washing Machine Project was created to manufacture the “Divya” devices on a wider scale, with over 300 machines so far distributed worldwide 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,” said London-born Sawhney.
“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.
“Thank you to our team, volunteers, partners and beneficiaries who work tirelessly daily to make our mission a success,” he said.
According to Downing Street, his hand-cranked washing machines have benefitted over 1,000 families without access to an electric machine in underdeveloped countries or refugee camps, including humanitarian aid centres in Poland for Ukrainian refugees.
The Washing Machine Project’s Go Fund Me crowdfunding campaign has raised over 91,000 pounds since July 2021.
Points of Light are outstanding individual volunteers and people seen as making a change in their community and are regularly honoured by the British Prime Minister to recognise their inspirational work.