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Understanding Aid and Debt Simulation


Start a discussion about aid, using the following questions as prompts:

  • What does the word ‘aid’ mean? Explain that it is a word meaning ‘to help’. You could look it up in a dictionary. You can also use other terms such as ‘first aid’ to help with understanding of the word.
  • Can you think of a time when you needed help for something? What did you need help for? How did you feel needing that help? (Encourage discussion around good and bad feelings).
  • What kind of ‘aid’ is available to people in your country? To people who are unemployed, ill, cannot pay rent, want to study, have children, are getting old…? At different times in our lives and for people in different situations, ‘aid’ or ‘assistance’ is needed.
  • Some countries also need help like this. ‘Aid’ can be money given to poorer countries by rich countries.

Ask why do you think rich countries give money to poorer countries? After some brief responses, introduce the fact that rich countries also ‘take’ from poorer countries.

Explain some examples:

  • Through history (use ‘colonialism’ if this will help), where rich countries take the resources of poor countries while controlling them.
  • Trade – where poor countries are made to trade in a way that keeps them poorer, selling their goods for a very low price.
  • ‘Tied’ aid – where a country gives, say 100 million pounds but then 70 million pounds of that has to be spent on things that are sold by the donor country, often including weapons.
  • Repaying debts – rich countries make money from loans to poor countries by charging interest on repayments. (The concept of interest can be easily explained: if you want to borrow ten pounds because you need it now, I might ask you to pay me £13 next month, so that I can ‘make’ 3 pounds. That is my payment for lending you the money).

Ask if this information surprises the group. Did they realise that rich countries also gained things from poorer countries? Do they think this is fair? Explain that countries that are richer tend to be on the top half of the globe (the North) and that poorer countries are often in the South.

Ask the children to draw a picture to represent the differences between rich and poor. One way is to use a large piece of paper, the top representing a rich country and the bottom representing a poor country. Then draw arrows from North to South, one up and one down. On the arrow ‘down’ you can put ‘aid’ and on the arrow ‘up’ where the South is giving to the North you can include ‘tied’ aid (e.g. money for products and services from the country giving aid), debt repayments, and low prices for sales of goods to the rich country. Draw pictures to illustrate these things.

Playing the Simulation Game

Tell the children that sometimes countries and international organisations don’t just give poor countries money, they loan it to them, but then make it difficult for those countries to repay it. Explain that the group has been lent £1000. You need to earn money to repay it, by making paper spirals. For each spiral made you will earn £1. If the money is not repaid by the time limit (1 minute) interest will be charged of £200, and so on every minute.

The leader should be the timer, and keep a running chart with four columns:

  • Total debt
  • Money earned (-)
  • Interest added (+)
  • Total still owed

Start a new row for each round, writing in the new ‘Total debt’. When the timer is stopped, ask one person to collect and count all the spirals made, and give them to the leader.

(You make a spiral by cutting (or tearing) a circle out of paper. Then carefully cut it by going in from one edge and following the circle around and around until you reach the centre, forming a spiral.) Keep the game short – the aim is to convey quickly how debt repayments can soon get out of control. Play 3 or 4 rounds, then end the game and announce how much debt is still outstanding. Participants may say it is unfair, impossible, etc. Use these responses to debrief at the end and explain about the debt situation for many poorer countries.

Many of them really face a situation like this where they cannot earn enough money to repay the debts that they owe. They have to focus all their attention on repaying their debts, which means other things like education and health care get neglected. The solution to the problem would be cancelling all unpayable debts to give these poor countries a new start.

Circletime Discussion Points:

  • As you have had a long discussion today, just end by asking the children how they feel about what they have learned.
  • Talk about countries being rich and poor in terms other than wealth e.g. natural resources, happiness and wellbeing.

Resources Required

Scrap paper, scissors (optional), pen and paper, timer, drawing paper, crayons/coloured pencils, a map or globe (optional), a dictionary (optional)


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