(Self-) Empowerment Against Racial Discrimination in the Context of International Voluntary Services

by Akinola Famson

Akinola Famson is a BPoC trainer of ICJA Freiwilligenaustausch weltweit e.V. and a board member of Association for Anti-Discrimination and Education Work in the Federal Republic of Germany e.V. (BDB).

This article highlights the necessity of counselling and empowering Black Volunteers and Volunteers of Colour, otherwise referred to as ‘Black People and People of Colour (BPoC)’.

The numbers of international volunteers from the Global South (described as ‘Incomings’ within the organisation) doing their voluntary service in Germany, and German BPoC volunteers (‘Outgoings’) travelling abroad for their voluntary service has increased. Therefore, it has become imperative for ICJA Freiwilligenaustausch weltweit e.V./ICYE Germany as a hosting and sending organisation and for other ICYE partners as well to focus on ways and means of preventing and combating discrimination, especially racial discrimination and other forms of discrimination, which are relevant to its volunteers. For this reason, the ‘Safe Space’ during its seminars and trainings for BPoC volunteers was created.

In these seminars and training, focus is placed on ways and means of preventing and dismantling the phenomenon of discrimination. In this regard, special focus is placed on racial discrimination, due to the importance of this form of discrimination to most BPoC volunteers. Notwithstanding this, other forms of discrimination (e.g. sexism, classism, etc.) are also being treated by means of a methodology that gives room for this group of people to share and discuss their general discriminatory experiences, with the aim of sensitising, counselling and empowering them to find the most effective ways of dealing with and combating discrimination.

Necessity and Importance

The main purpose of this article is to help BPoC volunteers, and BPoC trainers/team leaders/facilitators (including myself) to understand our identity as BPoCs in a racial system or society which assumes our inferiority. At the same time, we question our efforts to liberate ourselves by fighting racial imbalance, prejudice and replacing it with anti-racial ‘propaganda’, while many of us seem to think that the solution is to internalise racist oppression concerning both the ‘White’ majority and ourselves.

Some of us believe that it is absolutely critical to embrace our identity as BPoC within our group and community, understanding that this will profoundly affect and determine the quality of our lives socially, politically and economically.

It is paramount that we work together in the context of committing to a just society. Achieving this requires two tasks: both rejection of and opposition to cultural, institutional and structural racism.

Note: It is of crucial importance to sensitise or inform all participants of a seminar or training ahead as to why a ‘Safe Space’ is necessary for BPoCs and why it is also an essential part of the process of combating and preventing discrimination, most especially racial discrimination.

Should there be any critical voices among the participants as regards the relevance of ‘Safe Space’, efforts should be made by the trainer or team leader to enlighten the person(s)

“If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

Toni Morrison: ‘The Truest Eye’, 15.9.2016
Typical Case Study (My Perspective as a Longtime BPoC Trainer with ICYE Germany)

The Impact of Racist Aggression and Oppression on BPoC

Racist aggression and oppression of BPoC can be based on biased images, stereotypes, prejudice and myths promoted by the racist system in Germany, as well as in other European countries. In some cases even our own thoughts and feelings about ourselves, people of our own racial group, or other BPoC are based on the racial messages we constantly receive from the ‘broader system’, all which we may somehow internalise.

For many Black People and People of Colour in our communities, racial aggression and oppression manifests itself as:

  • Self-Doubt
  • Inferiority Complex
  • Self-Hate
  • Powerlessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Apathy
  • Addictive Behaviour
  • Abusive and Violent Relationships
  • Conflict between Communities of People of Colour

Even though there are many differences within the history of oppression concerning BPoC in Germany, other European countries and North America, there are also many similarities that BPoC have faced. All of these following methods are still being used within the continuing context of oppression:

  • Violence and the Threat of Violence
  • Change in Behaviour
  • Destruction of Culture
  • Division
  • Separation
  • Isolation
(Self-)Empowerment Session/Workshop/Methods

Racism pushes us down; resistance, awareness and education empower us


Combined cognitive, experiential and action-related methods should be used in a (self-)empowerment session/workshop. The individual-psychological level can be addressed, for example, by simulating exclusion or reflecting on one’s own identity. The level of discourse can be influenced by the analysis of language and its function within the discourse of power, as well as by the production of collective negative images.

Through simulation, the structural level can be explored by both identifying historical and economical causes of racism and by referring to current national and EU policies and legislation.

In addition to self-experience and knowledge transfer, it is particularly important not to neglect the focus at hand. Young people should have the space to develop opportunities for action on the subject, both for everyday situations and for political participation in their countries of origin. Various forms of political action could be part of the strategies aimed at combating discrimination (e.g. street theatre, public surveys) in order to motivate participants to take comparable actions in their countries of origin. Actionorientation is particularly important so that young people not only perceive themselves as subjects of the society that shapes them, but continuously shapes them over time. Deciding on or between methods must be based on case by case basis, depending on the linguistic competence and educational background of the participants. A prerequisite for fruitful examination of the topic is a dialogical attitude that avoids moralising value judgments towards the participants.

See the method: Empower Yourself


It is advisable to have a team of BPoC (target group) trainers facilitate a (self-)empowerment session/workshop. When dealing with participants with immigrant backgrounds, the team should consist of as many trainers/teamers as possible with similar experiences and backgrounds. The same goes for gender parity in a mixed group. Furthermore, it is desirable that the facilitation team complements each other based on their various expertise on the subject.


Anti-racist education in international youth work or voluntary service can be part of professional cooperation with other institutions. Meaningful synergies with other institutions in the field of learning and education against racism and discrimination could reinforce the development and didactic implementation of this subject matter. Collaborations open up the possibility of advancing the development of strategies and ideas through professional exchange. Strategic collaborations should be sought, for example with local migrant associations, in order to access and involve members of minority groups as actors and interlocutors.


Due to cultural differences based on identity and exclusion mechanisms, international voluntary service provides a way to learn and educate oneself about racism, xenophobia and discrimination. The aim is to make the process of international voluntary service work didactically and coherently as the situation required. The journey itself is the goal.

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