A few weeks ago, we shared University of Bath engineer Nav’s story with you. He created a new, manual, portable, $30 washing machine – after a woman called Divya told him about the struggle of washing clothes without a machine. This time-consuming, physical burden is often shouldered by women and girls in the poorest regions of countries worldwide. Now, the Divya washing machine is on track to help make life easier for people in Iraqi camps.

Together with the Iraq Response Innovation Lab, Oxfam is taking 50 of Nav’s machines to an Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in Iraq. We caught up with Nav while he was in Iraq…

A surreal experience

“I’m really excited to be here in Iraq. For The Washing Machine Project, It’s a really surreal experience because we were developing the washing machine for a very specific lady in south India; Divya , and for it to receive funding by The Iraq Innovation Lab and Oxfam has been such a great stepping stone for us. And then for it to actually be distributed in camps; for it to really have an impact on someone’s life is an unimaginable thing.

In terms of how we are monitoring and evaluating the impact of the washing machine, we have a base-line survey of the Divya prototype that we’ve developed, which monitors the users’ habits to begin with. So, we ask ‘how large is the family’, ‘how often do they wash clothes?’ ‘how many hours per day?’ All of this is recorded and after 6 months of monitoring every week, the same questions are asked. For example, ‘how much water does this person use?’ ‘Is there any real impact being made by using Divya? Is there any time being saved?’ ‘If there is any time being saved, what are they doing?’

Those kind of feedback points are really important. That’s what informs us in our next prototype.

And then for me personally, the context is quite tough. You see all this bad press about Iraq in the media, about it being dangerous and for me personally, meeting people that live here – their lives go on. Talking to people about their troubles, about their difficulties matters a lot to me… that’s really important to me.”

Next steps

“In terms of the next steps of The Washing Machine Project, we hope to scale this up in Iraq. We hope to scale it up locally as well. In the last week I’ve been meeting local manufacturers that can produce some of our parts. It would be incredible if we could reproduce these in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps here in Iraq, because that’s full cycle; they’re being made by people locally, they’re being used by people locally, and that’s empowering.”

How the Divya washing machine works

“The washing machine… works with a hand-cranked handle… we put our clothes in… and up to 20 litres of water, and some detergent. You close [it] up and then you spin for a maximum of 20 minutes and then your washing is done. So, none of this bending down! You stand up while you use it. It’s works on… load-bearing wheels and it spins quite freely. One of the complaints from the previous prototype was that it was too heavy to handle, so we put [a] tap [on] to evacuate water, so it becomes lighter.”

Distributing the washing machine in Iraq

“The Oxfam Mosul team will be distributing the washing machines directly into camps. And then if all goes well, we’d love to produce more out here in Iraq locally.

I’m looking forward to… seeing how it goes and hearing the feedback. I’m really excited. The disproportionate burden of unpaid labour on women is really unfair, and it’s present right across the region, as well as the world. It’s such a privilege to be able to help in the way that I can.”


As COVID-19 escalates, millions living in cramped and unhygenic conditions – with limited access to healthcare – desperately need help to stay safe. Oxfam is helping people minimise the risk of the coronavirus infection by providing them with accurate information and advice in local languages. Our teams are delivering clean water, handwashing facilities and soap to those most at risk. Donate now to support Oxfam’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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