Numerous reports from “the Field” indicate that Barbers Without Borders is not fulfilling their mission to provide affordable yet fashionable hair-styling services for Africa. Ethnic minorities and migrant laborers throughout Africa are living with unkempt hair because the local economy does not support barbers who use scissors. These ethnic minorities – who are often young, often skinny, and often sick – live in constant fear of ridicule by their local partners, who scoff at their unruly hair, dirty clothes and smelly feet. Anyone who visits a government ministry in Africa will quickly note the difference in personal hygiene between the local managers and the minority “technical consultants”.
“We believe that the lack of barbers is the root cause of poor hygiene among migrant laborers in Africa,” said a spokeswomen for Barbers Without Borders who refused to be named because I made her up. “What incentive do they have to shave or wash their feet if their hair is messy anyway? If we can just provide a few more stylists in key areas – Accra, Abijan and Lagos come to mind – we believe that we can unlock the key to growth in hygiene among expatriates in Africa,”.
But if this is the mission of Barbers Without Borders, where are the barbers? Many ethnic minorities and migrant laborers report going months without haircuts, often waiting for “home leave” to get their hair cut. Others take the drastic step of flying to London for the weekend to get haircuts, buy electronics, and go clubbing. But, as if often the case, the hardest hit are those without jobs, working as volunteers or low-wage labor at not-for-profits.
“It can be tragic if you choose the wrong barber,” said one such migrant laborer. “The last haircut I had, I walked out 3/4 of the way through out of sheer frustration; he seemed to be trying to shear me. I tried to clean it up myself when I got home. I did what I could, but, well, you can see the result,” the laborer said sheepishly. He refused to give his name for fear of public shaming, but referred to his latest haircut as “the Skunk” because of the trough the barber carved down the back of his head. “Barbers Without Borders has some questions to answer,” he concluded.