Toxic River

Rationale / Development

This activity was introduced to the CoMC team at our first workshop in Sydney, as a way for participants to get to know each other and to establish shared aims. It was developed and facilitated by Pravah, a youth-based organisation in Delhi. There are three main themes, each of them important in the development of teams.

  • Setting the agenda
  • Taking people along
  • Doing it the right(s) way



  • Rope or tape to mark the banks of the river (with a width of approx. 6m) •
  • Pieces of cardboard (50cm x 50cm) – 3 for each group
  • Pieces of fabric (one per participant) that can be used as blindfolds, mouth guards and for tying limbs together
  • Whiteboard and markers


1. Divide participants into equally sized groups (of approx. 8)

2. Provide all participants with the following instructions:

  • You are a team and your target is that all team members cross this toxic river in the time set by the team.
  • Each team will be given these 3 cardboard pieces, which are your lifeboats.
  • There are a number of rules:
    • At no point of time should the card board pieces be without human touch otherwise they will dissolve
    • No body part of a team member can be in water, without the cardboard piece. If it happens, that member will have to start again.
    • The cardboard piece cannot be sent back without human touch after having crossed the river.

3. Distribute the fabric with the following instructions:

  • Inform the participants of an additional challenge: each of the team members has a physical challenge (2 team members are visually challenged, 2 cannot speak, 4 are physically challenged (1 with arms tied behind their back, 1 with their legs tied together, 2 participants tied together by legs i.e. one leg each). Add more people with the same disability if the number of team members is greater.
  • You as a team have to allocate these disabilities to different people, and then decide on a targeted period of time to cross the entire river as a team. You have 5 minutes to do this.

(Note: Facilitator needs to observe and pay attention to the consultative process used in each team to allocate disabilities and the approach used for determining the target time. If there are more than 1 facilitator, then attach yourself to separate teams. Observe who is being included in strategizing, who is taking leadership, who is not being listened to, individual stereotypes and any emerging patterns. Are they leaping into action, without strategizing?)


4. Ask each team to indicate their target time for crossing the river.

5. Provide participants with 5 minutes of planning time and the opportunity to change their target time.

6. Once the game starts, facilitators should observe all rules are followed, removing ‘lifeboats’ (cardboard squares) from those teams that are breaking the rules. Facilitators should also observe the following:

  • Are they using the same person in the team to help others cross the river, while some are only standing?
  • What is the role each person is playing? Are they sensitive to each other’s disability?
  • Are their suggestions being passed on?
  • Are there any gender specific biases at play in distributing responsibilities?

7. Once the groups have all completed the task, bring the participants back together to talk through the following, writing up relevant notes under the headings in bold.

  • How was the experience? Give all the teams a chance to speak and share their experience.
  • Envisioning/setting the agenda
    • How was the time target decided?
    • What was your strategy and did it work?
    • What could you have done when things were not working?
    • If you saw a team changing their strategy midway, ask them why did they do so?
    • Explain: If something is not working then we can revisit the strategy that we adopted. There is no point in continuing with something which will not give results. Discuss based on your observation of the teams how they might change their approach.
  • Taking people along
    • Who was the leader? The one who helped most people cross (took most action); who spoke the most; or who demonstrated leadership in another way?
    • Were you able to involve everyone to the best of their potential? o Did everyone take responsibility?
    • Explain how we can best utilize team members’ skills: Someone might be good at singing we can ask them to do an energizer; someone might be good at writing we can ask them to write the meeting minutes or write the report; someone can be given responsibility to assemble people. This way, through very small measures, we are driving ownership and leadership in the team members. If someone cannot talk is there another way to involve them?
  • Doing it the ‘rights’ way
    • Did anyone get left out or feel over-burdened?
    • Did you compromise on the process or a person’s feelings at any point to help your team win? (means vs. end)
    • What were the values that you were operating from while playing this game?
    • Explain: The end is critical but the means are important as well. How are we achieving our goal? Are we overriding people and in the process hurting people? It is important to see what values we are operating from. As we work to transform the world, we need to look within and ensure we are practising the rights way in our daily life as well.