Meet Lee Hodgson. He’s 42, originally from the UK and currently splitting his time between Indonesia and Malaysia.
Lee is a true English lad, with a mischievous smile and a couple of bung knees. And he sews bags.
The sight of Lee hand-sewing new bags from old pants on the streets of Melaka is a bit of a conversation starter. How did this English bloke end up sewing bags? Chance, fate, serendipity, whatever you want to call it, it just kind of happened.
A few years ago Lee was backpacking in Indonesia where a chance meeting with an Indonesian traveller and a desire to find something to do for a bit led him to Medan, an Indonesian city far from the tourist trail. There he found the Dian Bersinar Foundation, a small after-school programme perched on the edge of the railway tracks, amid the community that calls that dusty, shuddering, noisy place home.
For 3 months, Lee taught English at the centre. “You have to stop teaching and hold your breath when the train comes by,” Lee explains. The classroom is that close to the tracks.
Lee fell in love with the place. He told me that children pay a small fee to attend, which means they really want to be there. And the location is so dire that the centre was a kind of beacon of joy and hope for the community. “The joy was already there,” Lee smiles then goes on to explain how the centre keeps the kids out of trouble so they don’t spend their afternoons begging or picking through rubbish for recyclable plastic.
After he left Medan, Lee kept looking around for a way to continue to help. One day in Melaka, Malaysia he saw a local artist making a bag out of an old pair of trousers. “I could do that,” he said to himself. And ‘Bags for Kids‘ was born.
Now Lee sews everyday. He buys second-hand pants from the local market, and hand-sews each bag into several unique creations, which he sells to tourists in Melaka. The profits go to Dian Bersinar and another education programme in Lake Toba, Indonesia that he was similarly moved by, called Alusi Tao Toba.
Having never sewed before and only a few months in, Lee says the work is slow going and he remains pragmatic. “I would like to raise a million pounds, but in the real world being able to supply the kids with a sewing machine is a good start,” he explains.
Lee sees his role not just as fundraising but also as awareness raising. From the hostel that he bases himself in at Melaka he talks with travellers about the two projects so dear to his heart. If he can’t sell a bag perhaps he can recruit a volunteer or raise awareness by growing his facebook fan base.
For Lee the biggest challenge is time. Whatever your project may be Lee advises “it won’t take off as quickly as you would like or you thought it would. Definitely not,” but he offers the following advice to people who want to make a difference and raise support for a project close to their own hearts:
1. Persistence, persistence, persistence
It won’t be easy. Nothing in life that really matters is. But Lee stresses the importance of persistence – “Don’t give up,” he says, “it’s all a learning curve.”
2. Learn to let go
Sometimes Lee finds it hard to part with his favourite creations, having invested so much time and energy in them. Learning to let go and not get too emotionally involved has been an important stepping stone. He says you have to keep your eye on the prize and remember the wider goal.
3. Think about your market
If your project involves products and marketing, you need to consider the audience. Ask yourself who is going to buy what you make, and what do they want? “I’ve learned that just because I like a design doesn’t mean it will sell,” he explains. Lee is learning what to make as he goes based on which items are most popular and sell fastest. In time his sales will improve as a result.
For now, Lee continues sewing and spreading the word from Malaysia and will soon take his project on the road in Europe. His current mission is to raise enough money for a mobile library for the Lake Toba project.
If you would like to find out more about Bags for Kids or show your support for the foundations through a donation or purchasing a bag please visit and like the Bags for Kids facebook page.