Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

A 13 Year Old Mother in Tanzania Shares Her Story on Pinterest

October 01, 2012

On the heels of the Social Good Summit held in New York between September 22 -24, 2012 the African Medical and Research Foundation UK (AMREF UK) has merged the use of social media and storytelling in Tanzania using Pinterest, the popular image-sharing social network. Rather than report from the ground themselves about the plight of young girls who often become young mothers, AMREF UK has given a camera phone to a young 13-year-old mother of two, Sihiba, to chronicle her daily life, on Pinterest. In this campaign called Children with Children, AMREF UK is allowing Sihiba to tell her own story through photos and social media.

In Mtwara, a village in remote Tanzania where Sihiba lives, over 60 percent of adolescents have had sex, but only 6 percent use contraception. In fact, contraception education is rare and access to contraceptives is poor. It is common for young girls to become pregnant while they are still in primary school. Sihiba first became pregnant at 11 after having sex with an older man for money.  AMREF’s Sauti ya Vijana (‘Voice of Youth’) project teaches the youth in Mtwara about using contraceptives and helps young girls like Sihiba gain skills to provide for them and their children.

I spoke with Rebecca Stagg of AMREF UK about the Children with Children campaign and why they decided to use Pinterest to facilitate storytelling from a young mother’s perspective.

JJ: Why did AMREF UK decide to use Pinterest as a means for Sihiba to tell her story?

We worked with advertising agency BBH who came up with the idea of using Pinterest to tell the story of one of the young women who has benefitted from an AMREF project. The reason they originally thought of using Pinterest, and we agree, is that it is currently mostly used for one thing -- to share pictures of beautiful things -- objects, clothes, jewelry, and things for the home. Most of the images are professionally taken, or very beautiful, and it’s very much about sharing things we would like in our lives. Our project, called Children with Children, aims to shake Pinterest up a bit! We thought a campaign which allows someone who’s benefitted from an AMREF project to post their own pictures on their own page – not perfect images of beautiful things, but just pictures that capture the young woman’s life, would be the perfect way to interrupt this stream of prettiness on Pinterest, and get people talking about something different, something that we think is important.

We then worked with our offices in Tanzania to find a young woman who wanted to take part, and Sihiba came along!

JJ: Typically we hear stories of people in developing countries as told to organizations rather than them telling their own stories. Why was this important for AMREF?

It is very difficult to give the people benefitting from projects on the ground a way to tell their own story. It isn’t feasible, or necessarily safe, to give people a smartphone or a camera, and NGOs, quite rightly, often do not want to spend money on that.

However, stories are always more powerful when they are told by the people they are about. That’s why Sihiba’s page is so unique, she will update it herself, with pictures she’s taken herself of her surroundings, her home and her family, in real time. AMREF UK will translate her comments and captions as they will be posted in her native language Swahili. We have given Sihiba the chance to tell her own story and we’re really excited to see and hear what she’ll share with us!

As part of BBH’s commitment to the Children for Children campaign, they were able to support the costs of the Pinterest project and purchased the camera phone which Sihiba will use to take and post her pictures. One aspect of the project which was paramount throughout the planning stages was ensuring Sihiba’s safety. The phone she uses is kept in a safe, secure AMREF office and she has support from a peer worker to help her update her Pinterest page so that it doesn’t affect her life too much and she has enough time to look after her baby and go about her daily routine as normal.

You can follow Sihiba’s board and see and share her photos of daily life at


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