Five Hearts: innovate for schooling kids in Togo

In 2016, the Thales Foundation recognised the Five Hearts association’s project to build a multimedia centre in northern Togo. Co-founded eight years earlier by a Thales employee, the NGO was able to reach an important milestone in its development, make its work more visible and enlist more support both inside and outside Thales. Here is its story.




Five Hearts,started with a story of friendship. Damien Gillette is a project manager at Thales. He is also an avid basketball player and coach at Stade Français. Everything started for him in 2008 when Dodzi Degboe, one of his former players at the Club de Saint-Maur (in eastern Paris), contacted him. One can imagine their conversation: “Coach, in Togo, only one out of two children goes to primary school and one out of five to secondary school. The others have to work, all because one year of school costs the equivalent of €50. For just one month of my salary at the minimum wage, I could send 30 children to school. I need your help.”


Turning outrage into a project


They shook hands and made a promise – the kind that is not easily broken – and soon registered Five Hearts‘ statutes. The idea was simple: every €50 collected would send one child in Togo to school. Six pledges and one charity basketball tournament later, they’d collected €600. All that was left was selecting 12 children. But they had to be careful. They couldn’t just give money to anybody or have them use it for something else. First, they had to identify their target beneficiaries.


“We wondered why so many children went to primary but not secondary school,” explains Damien. “We found out that, in many cases, families stopped sending their children to school when one of their parents died. With the loss in income, they could no longer pay school fees and had to put their children to work.”



With the help of André Kékéou Banguina, a food engineer and former teacher in Lomé, 12 children were selected. All had previously gone to school but had to drop out after a parent’s death. Few had enough to eat. Five Hearts signed a moral contract with each child’s guardian, who agreed to send the child to school if the association paid their school fees, until they graduated from secondary school.


How it all started
• 12 children in 2008
• 24 in 2010
• 43 in 2013
• 70 in 2014
• 110 in 2015


But Dodzi, Damien, their wives, teammates, and Damien’s Thales colleagues didn’t stop there. Every summer since 2010, 11 volunteers have spent three weeks in Togo at their own expense. During the “charity camp”, they tutor students, lead athletic and cultural activities, and look for new trusted contacts and new opportunities to apply the Five Hearts method, particularly in northern Togo. Soon, one project followed another, and in 2013, the association built a library in Lome and developed a partnership with a medical centre to help keep children healthy.



2016 Thales Foundation award winner: from a drop in a bucket to a ripple effect


In 2014, Delphine Baudouin, a sales manager at Thales and executive member of the association, had the idea of answering the Thales Foundation’s call for projects. The first application was not accepted, but in 2015, Five Hearts came back better prepared with a project that was more in line with the Foundation’s social priorities and educational goals : the creation of a multimedia and e-learning centre in Niamtougou, in northern Togo. And it won!


The €9,236 received from the Foundation was sorely needed, because the association had to do everything, from completing and expanding construction to fencing in the property and hiring a night watchman, equipping classrooms, training IT teachers, and more. In France and Togo, Five Hearts worked hard so that, on 5 August 2017, the centre could finally open.



The Thales Foundation’s support also gave the small association the kind of visibility it had never had before. Damien remembers with emotion all the volunteers who collected donations, the colleagues who congratulated him in the cafeteria, the Thales Athletic Association, which donated T-shirts, the managers who invited him to a management meeting to donate tablets, PCs and video projectors, and his client at Airbus, who also donated computers.


Today, 100 students use the multimedia centre in Niamtougou every day and over 1,000 can access it upon request. Five Hearts‘ first students already include 22 secondary school graduates and even one young researcher who is starting a thesis in Toulouse. Damien, as you can imagine, wants to change the world through basketball. We’ve heard the Togolese Basketball Federation needs experienced coaches…

Do not hesitate to contact the Thales Foundation for more information: