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Ashley Belal Chin rounds the kids up before giving them their new Adidas football kits.

FTRS

SCTR x SPOT

SCTR and the SPOT project; Supporting the People Of Tomorrow, an interview with Ashley Belal Chin.
A special feature looking at the positive impact the charity is having and showcasing some amazing images by SCTR supported emerging photographer Brunel Johnson.

Story by Vivian Iroanya

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Emerging photographer Brunel Johnson

“The Gambia is always a beautiful experience. It’s a place where I feel at peace and you get that rewarding feeling and satisfaction that you’re doing something good”, says Ashley Belal Chin on his trip back from The Gambia after working on his charity initiative Spot Project.

Spot- which stands for Supporting The People Of Tomorrow – is a legacy-building project which aims to illuminate the hearts, faces and minds of underprivileged youth around the world, starting in The Gambia. Founded by Abu Bakr with Ashley Chin’s assistance, the charity’s goal is to build schools and learning centres to run courses, seminars and training programmes to equip the youth with the essential skills and education to motivate those that will look up to them in the future.

Kids line up in their kits.                           Nap time.

“The Gambia is always a beautiful experience. It’s a place where I feel at peace and you get that rewarding feeling and satisfaction that you're doing something good”

Ashley tells me of his first trip to The Gambia in 2016 when the idea to start Spot Project began. He mentions being used as a role model by other charities for nearly 10 years to tell his inspiring success story from growing up on a deprived South London council estate to becoming one of the most successful British actors and poets. But after visiting multiple orphanages in The Gambia and seeing the alarming conditions most children were living in, Ashley decided to take charge of his narrative and assist the youth on his own terms. “I used my own story to help and encourage young people in deprived areas. It was often like ‘look, this is a model. Look at what he does. He comes from nothing and see what he managed to achieve in his life,” Ashley explains. “We’ve been letting other organisations just hire us to come and work for them. We had to do it ourselves because I almost felt like I was being used. We’re living in a time where we spend so much on clothes, shoes and jackets worth thousands of pounds. You go on social media and this is what we’re celebrating, but how can we celebrate these types of wins when big losses are happening like this at the same time. I was a bit touched but also annoyed and almost thinking ‘people shouldn’t be living like this in these times.”

Sports Day at Spot Academy.

“We had to do something, because if you don't, who's going to do it?’ We started fundraising money online and made our dream a reality. From 2016, it took us four years to finalise the Spot project,”

Indeed, the rest of Ashley’s initial trip to the country was spent seeking for land to begin construction on his project. “We had to do something because ‘if you don’t, who’s going to do it?’ We started fundraising money online and made our dream a reality. From 2016, it took us four years to finalise the Spot project,” he says.

Fast forward to today, Spot Project has transformed the lives of many. Every year, it raises money for different campaigns, schools and orphanages. Some of the initiatives include the ‘Spot Academy’, which offers free schooling for children aged seven to 16; supporting orphans with higher education; and ‘Water for life’ which provides safe access to clean water. Ashley tells me that in November, the charity’s 100th borehole water system was installed in the country. “We spend a lifetime in pursuit of happiness and we’re searching for it in all the wrong places. Some of our children are 16 when we first took them in at age 12. Seeing these kids’ development brings nothing but joy to the soul. This is the best thing I’ve ever been involved in and put my efforts into.”

Sports Day at Spot Academy.                           Afterschool Chilling.

“We spend a lifetime in pursuit of happiness and we're searching for it in all the wrong places. Some of our children are 16, when we first took them in at age 12. Seeing these kids’ development brings nothing but joy to the soul. This is the best thing I've ever been involved in and put my efforts into.”

The Gambia’s poverty rate remains at 48%. Spot Project provides nutritious foods to vulnerable people in some of the poorest communities. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the charity fed more than 10,000 people in need in the country. The annual ‘2K Challenge’ involves taking the initiative to fundraise towards a target of £2000. The money goes towards facilitating a proper education for the children. “We’re a charity that encourages building your legacy and something that can live on beyond you,” says Ashley. “We encourage young people to get involved. Use your energy and put it into doing something great. We all want to be happy, that’s our goal. The more people you make happy, the happier you will be. If you do good and you help people, good comes back to you.”

The actor also elucidates how volunteering at a charity like Spot Project is a good first start to building your own initiative. “Before you do anything, ask yourself ‘why?’ Starting a charity is definitely not easy and there’s a lot that goes into it. Every penny you raise has to be a penny spent. We quickly realised we were dealing with these kids’ emotions every day. You need a full team, it’s not as simple as ABC. Having a good reason will motivate you through all of the challenges that will come along the way.”

Musa finishes off his homework before taking a bath to get ready for school.

“We're a charity that encourages building your legacy and something that can live on beyond you,”

Indeed, establishing the Spot Project was not without its difficulties, says Ashley. “When we started our first building, it was probably our worst construction. We may have spent the most on it and we had to change the builders halfway through. But we were still learning. We had to go through these failures to learn and grow from them. Now, because of those experiences on the first building, we knew what to expect on our next one. And that’s what life is about, it teaches you things to grow from.”

For this, Ashley is passionate about how the charity thrives on authenticity and transparency. On working with photographer Brunel Johnson, the actor mentions how the images captured are unplanned, real and candid. “We don’t like to pretend or set things up. These are real moments. The photos are authentic,” he says.

Race to the finish line.                           The Kids go to the beach.

“We don't like to pretend or set things up. These are real moments. The photos are authentic,”

Spot Project is looking into building more schools in The Gambia and expanding into other countries, such as the Caribbean region. “We just want to see a world where people just live by divine values. Coming from the film industry, I grew up looking up to superstars wishing I had what they had,” says Ashley. “We have to take advantage of our time because everyday matters. One day my daughter could say ‘my dad built schools, orphanages and he fed thousands of orphans.’ These young people are future leaders. When I was young I could have done with that support. So be the change you want to see.”

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