A hairstyle that has popular been around Africa for many years has become much more than a look in Nairobi, Kenya — it’s become a conversation starter and fundraising tool for COVID-19.
The "corona hairstyle" is shaped just like the virus: it has long spikes and a small circular crown and Kenyan hairstylists hope it will bring much-needed community awareness about the pandemic.
Hairstyles have historically carried meaning in Africa, from revealing a wearer's relationship status to their family's social standing. Variations of the "corona hairstyle" have been plaited from generations to generation.
Sharon Refa, a hairstylist in Nairobi’s biggest slum Kibera, told the Guardian that there still needs to be awareness about how to protect oneself and others from coronavirus.
"Some grownups don’t believe that the coronavirus is real," Refa said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends regularly washing hands with water and soap or cleaning them with a sanitiser, as well as wearing masks and social distancing when in public.
But another challenge Kenya faces in its fight against COVID-19 is lack of clean water and sanitation.
According to Water.org, a digital platform that advocates for access to water and sanitation, 41% of Kenyans get their water supply from ponds, shallow wells, and rivers, while 71% of the population lack access to sanitation. The challenges are even more pronounced in slums like Kibera.
Refa added that many adults in her community are reluctant to wear masks or use hand sanitiser, which is why she and her colleagues came up with the "corona hairstyle," she said.
"The hairstyle also helps in communicating with the public about the virus," Mariam Rashid, one of Refa’s customers, said.
Gettrueth Ambio, 12, has her hair styled in braided spikes that echo the shape of the new coronavirus, at the Mama Brayo Beauty Salon in the Kibera slum, or informal settlement, of Nairobi, Kenya on May 3, 2020.
Gettrueth Ambio, 12, has her hair styled in braided spikes that echo the shape of the new coronavirus, at the Mama Brayo Beauty Salon in the Kibera slum, or informal settlement, of Nairobi, Kenya on May 3, 2020. The coronavirus has revived a hairstyle in East Africa with the growing popularity in part due to economic hardships linked to virus restrictions.
Rashid said the corona hairstyle is a way to be stylish on a seriously tight budget. Millions of people across the world have lost their jobs, food security, and businesses as a result of COVID-19. In Kenya, 83% of total employment in 2018 was in the informal sector.
"Like any other businesses, informal sector business will end up with a reduction in customers because of the pandemic," Dr. Njeri Kinyanjui, a Nairobi-based academic, told the Conversation Africa at the beginning of the outbreak in March.
Rashid has already started feeling the pinch.
"COVID-19 has destroyed the economy, taken our jobs from us, and now money is scarce. I therefore decided to have my child’s hair done up like this at an affordable 50 shillings, and she looks good," Rashid told the Guardian.
You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.