PAPER BAGS GAME
Aims of the activity:
• To reveal some of the pressures that force children into work.
• To understand the pressures of trying to survive in an economy with massive unemployment and no social security.
• To question our use of the world’s resources.
• To look at and debate the ways in which work is organised and the economic systems exploit vulnerable communities.
Summary of the game:
• Participants form ‘family’ groups and imagine they are paper bag makers on the streets of Kolkata.
• Each group earns a living making paper bags from old newspapers. During the session, you will distribute chance cards among the groups, representing unexpected changes in the market, which affect their income.
• When they have finished making bags, give each group a shopping list of all the essential daily items they need to buy, and ask them to prioritise them.
• Each group needs to work out how much they earned and calculate whether they can afford all the essentials on the list.
• After the game, ask the groups how they felt during the game, and what they have learned about working together, the real-life conditions for paper bag makers in Kolkata and the economic systems that keep people poor.
Who can play:
The Paper Bag Game is designed for players aged nine and older. It can be played by six or more players (split into groups) and adapted to suit any age group.
PowerPoint Presentation to introduce the game to the students
How to play:
1. Prepare sample paper bags for each group to refer to. You could also prepare a demonstration set showing each step in the process. See instructions: How to make a paper bag.
2. For each group make one photocopy of:
• How to make a paper bag
• Family shopping list
• Will you survive? Maths card.
3. Photocopy and cut out the chance cards (card 2b).
4. Prepare your room so that each group has paste, paper, a sample bag and photocopied sheets.
S/he will need to check each batch of ten bags to make sure they are properly made. Mark each bag clearly when checked to prevent the bag makers taking them back to resell. Pay the group one rupee for each batch of ten bags.
1. Divide the players into groups of four or five. If possible, make sure that each group includes girls and boys.
2. Discuss the following questions (amend for adult groups):
• How can children of your age earn money?
• How many of you actually do so?
• Is the money you earn for yourself, or is it for others (for example, for your family or for solidarity?
• If you were allowed to work full time, what sort of work would you want to do? What sort of work would you not be able to do? Why?
• How many hours a day/days a week do you think it would be reasonable to work?
• How much of your pay would you keep for yourself? How much would you give to your family?
Playing the game
1. Explain that each group represents a family living in a crowded and poor shantytown in Kolkata. There is a huge demand for paper bags, which are mainly made by women and children from the poorest families. Some bag makers buy their paper from warehouses, which are called go-downs. Others collect it free from local households. The glue is made by boiling water and flour, and adding an anti-fungal chemical.
In real life, paper bags are sold in batches of 22, called gistas. On average, one child makes 200 bags a day, earning up to 1.5 rupees per gista – that’s 13 rupees (less than 18 pence) a day. For the purposes of this game, the figure has been rounded up to one rupee per batch of ten bags – meaning that however poor the players feel at the end of the game, the real-life situation for the bag makers is even worse.
2. Tell the groups that they have to survive for a day by making and selling as many paper bags as possible. They have 20 minutes.
• Show the groups how to make a bag using a sample bag so everyone can see, then ask them to start making bags.
• Each time a batch of ten bags is ready, a group member should take them to the shopkeeper to sell, while the others continue making bags for the next batch.
• The shopkeeper checks that each bag is properly made, and pays the group one rupee (one washer) for each batch.
• Hand out the chance cards randomly – they change the conditions each group is working under.
• Each group keeps its own checked bags. With younger children it is easier if the shopkeeper keeps the bags and notes down how many each group produces.
• Note how the groups organise themselves. Some will operate a production line with each member specialising in one task; in other groups individuals will make their own.
• When they have finished making bags, don’t let the children wash their hands immediately – point out that bag makers may not have the luxury of soap and water.
How to make a paper bag: