Opinion: 5 Things The West Can Learn About Money And Rural African Values

Written by Dana Sanchez

Canadian money coach and self-described minimalist, Lama Farran, is the founder of MaxWorth.ca, a Montreal-based company that strives to bring personal and financial awareness and peace to families and women seeking financial independence.

Farran traveled to East Africa this year, and shared on HuffingtonPost the observations and discussions she had with locals. Among the highlights of her trip was visiting a traditional Maasai village and other local communities.

Here are five valuable lessons Farran says she learned in rural Africa about money and what’s important.

Cash is king

Farran found the concept of spending money you have not yet earned — credit — to be almost non-existent in the communities she visited. She said in the parts of Africa she visited it can take a family up to 15 years to build their house.
Her guide explained that every year, families use the money they earn from selling their harvest to buy bricks. If it’s a good harvest, they buy more bricks; a less abundant harvest means fewer bricks.
Because they don’t take out a mortgage to build the house, once they have bought enough bricks to build it, they own it.
“They follow my favorite motto of ‘save now, buy later,” Farran said.  “They are surely not after instant gratification of owning a home and spending the next 20 years paying for it.”

Fun is free

In Western societies, people tend to associate having fun with spending money, Farran said. “Yet on so many occasions during my trip, I noticed children and adults having fun that did not involve any money.”

Farran said she observed adults gathering on the beach in the evening for acrobatic competitions. Other evenings, they’d play soccer, do cliff diving, or practice group martial arts.
“It was truly a joy to watch them have so much fun outdoors, with little or no equipment,” Farran said.

Community wellbeing comes first

Farran hired a guide from the Cultural Tourism Programme when she wanted to visit local communities to observe their way of life. She says the tour money went directly to help the tribes she was visiting.
“In those villages, everything is done for the benefit of the community,” she said. “I came across artists painting Christmas balls and carving African wood statues, only to sell them for the benefit of the community as a whole. I truly felt like everyone is taken care of and no one is forgotten. Resources and skills are shared, profits are shared, and everyone is looked after.”

Farran said she detected a deep sense of strength and resilience because tribe members were working for collective, rather than individual, well being.

Happiness doesn’t come from a bank account

Most people Farran visited did not own a bank account and had few possessions but seemed contented, she said.
“Seeing the children joyfully play with rocks, a blanket or an old car tire showed me that, contrary to our belief, we need much less to be happy. Happiness truly stems from within and is not found in a store or in ‘stuff,'” she said.

Resourcefulness is everywhere

Western societies use cows for two purposes — milk and meat — Farran said.
“The Maasai however, left with very little resources in the regions they inhabit, are able to find many more uses for a cow,” she said. “They drink the cow milk but also its blood (extracted without killing the cow), they eat its meat, they use its skin as a mat to sleep on, and they build their huts with wood and cow dung. Cow dung also seems to be popular in Rwanda where it is used to make traditional paintings (imigongo).”

Farran visited another tribe that found many uses for banana trees. They sold bananas at the market, but also used tree branches to make brooms and leaves to build roofs.
“Seeing this level of resourcefulness put in practice has taught me to become more creative at using what I already have at my disposal,” Farran said.