Quadruple amputee learns to sew with prosthetics to raise money to help deprived African children

Henlow amputee Caroline Coster wearing a face shield

Caroline had a stall at the MK Handmade and Vintage Winter Pop-Up Market in October - Credit: Courtesy of Caroline Coster (A Journey of Recovery blog)

A teacher who had her hands and feet amputated after contracting coronavirus and then sepsis has incredibly learnt how to sew using her prosthetic limbs, setting up an online shop of her finished crafts to raise funds to support deprived children in Africa.

Caroline Coster, a teacher at Henlow Church of England Academy, was put in an induced coma for a month after contracting COVID-19 in March last year.

She developed sepsis and her blood pressure fell so low she was given vasopressors to ensure blood flow continued to reach her vital organs. It ultimately saved her life, but resulted in Caroline’s hands and feet turning black and having to be amputated.

Through intensive rehabilitation and sheer dogged determination, Caroline has learnt to walk using prostheses and is increasing the number of tasks she can perform using her prosthetic arms. 

From the outset of rehabilitation, she had the strong resolve to eventually return to her passion of sewing, putting function before cosmetic appearance when it came to choosing her artificial limbs.

Caroline's sewing skills have long been supporting people living in Utange - a deprived village near Mombasa in Kenya. She transforms donated jeans into bags, phone cases, dog bandanas, garden mats - the list goes on - and sells them to help improve education and self-sufficiency in the village.

A bag and two bibs made out of used jeans

Caroline has long been supporting villagers in Utange by making and selling items out of donated jeans - Credit: Caroline Coster (A Journey of Recovery)

During a month-long trip to Utange four years ago, Caroline set up about 50 women with their own businesses, and a year later joined forces with Make a Difference Schools Mombasa - a charity improving education in Utange by providing school buildings, equipment and resources, as well as tackling poverty by providing pupils' families with resources to start their own businesses.

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Caroline explained: "Utange has high levels of deprivation and many of the villagers are unemployed. AIDS, prostitution and drug use are rife in the area and, until we became involved with the primary school, many people there felt hopeless.

"When I went out to Utange two years ago, the school had been transformed. I had set up a group of women to make school uniforms and was also able, thanks to a very generous donation, to sponsor a number of uniforms through these women."

As well as the pupils looking smarter, this initiative has also inspired hope for the future, with some children's mothers now running their own successful businesses. 

Kenyan women holding up school uniforms they have made

Caroline has supported women in Utange to set up their own businesses making school uniforms - Credit: Caroline Coster (A Journey of Recovery blog)

Just months after becoming a quadruple amputee, Caroline has set up an online shop to sell her crafts and raise money towards a new school in Utange for children with disabilities. 

She said: "I have taught myself to sew simply through determination to do so. I'm not as neat as I used to be, but I'm getting there. Fortunately, I do most of my sewing on a machine.

"I have found, despite my fears, it is quite easy to operate the foot pedal using my prosthetic legs. Obviously the process is going to be much slower now than it used to be, but fortunately I have a lot of stock left over from last year, as so many craft fairs were cancelled."

About the new school, she said: "Called The Rainbow Unit, we hope it will be able to cater for 150 children. We are focussing on giving children with disabilities a trade, so they will be able to choose between tailoring, catering, beadwork, metalwork and woodwork. There will also be an academic and life skills area.

"In Kenya, disability is very stigmatised and many families with disabled children are shunned in society. We hope our school unit will change this ethos, given time."

The new school building is already complete, so focus is now on raising the £6,000 needed to furnish it and provide the required materials so the school can open.

The Rainbow Unit school in Utange near Mombasa in Kenya

The Rainbow Unit is now built and needs to be furnished - Credit: Caroline Coster (A Journey of Recovery blog)

Further funds are also needed to support the unit for the next three years, until it is self-sustaining. 

"The teachers have plans to make money from the items produced in the workshops to sustain the school," Caroline explained. "Once The Rainbow Unit is self-sustaining, we will return to setting up women in business. So far, we have set up motorcycle taxi businesses, a shop, the group making school uniforms, and a mill where maize is ground into flour."

For Caroline's online shop, visit mademe.co.uk/shop/make-a-difference-schools-mombasa

For more about Make a Difference Schools Mombasa, visit facebook.com/makeadifferenceschools.

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