Reconquering Burkina Faso’s territory: A Christmas with the VDH women who gave up everything to defend their homeland

They are young girls, wives, mothers, widows, orphans… determined and totally committed to fighting terrorism in Burkina Faso. Bintou, Biba, Audrey, Reine, Djénéba and Balkissa (not their real names) have signed up as Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland (VDH). Some of them are on the front line and others are in the antechamber at the national training camp, serving the Burkinabe nation with devotion and loyalty. MoussoNews spent Christmas with these women, who are unlike any others.

Sunday 24 December 2023. From 6 o’clock in the evening, 21-year-old NG stands guard at the Volontaires pour la défense de la patrie (VDP) training camp, several kilometres from the capital of Burkina Faso. Dressed in military fatigues and protected by a bullet-proof waistcoat, weapon at the ready, helmet on her head, the young girl of average height with an ebony-black complexion stands guard with pride and determination. With a smiling, beaming face, it’s easy to see his determination to serve the nation.

 “My respects, Chief”, she said as soon as she saw a trainer “. How’s it going?” asked the trainer. “Affirmative”, she replies thoughtfully. Further on, another young girl, aged 23, is also on duty. “They always work in pairs,” says the trainer. Near the bunkhouses, another young woman is on duty. “They take turns at regular intervals until the early hours of the morning. There’s not even anywhere to sit down. Do they do it standing up until dawn?” we ask. The answer is yes, with the assurance that they are used to it. “It’s a little exercise,” says the smiling trainer.

A few meters away is another dormitory site. The atmosphere is good-natured. It’s a VDP’s birthday party. But the mood is not festive. “Christmas?” wonders one VDP, who believes that every day is Christmas.

The “VDP” journalist

2am. Time for the round. The trainer takes us out on the bike. The cold is indescribable. “You have to protect yourself. You have to wear the military uniform we’ve given you”, she says. A round of all the guard posts is done in a few minutes. Everything is “ok”. Just 2 hours sleep and work starts at 5am.

Read more here: Reconquête du territoire : Un noël avec ces femmes VDP qui ont tout abandonné pour défendre la Patrie – Mousso News

At 5am, it was already time to gather at the sports field. All the VDPs were there. We had to run for 1 hour. It was hard for us to keep up. A walk followed. “Who’s walking here? Who’s walking here?” asks a trainer from a distance. “We don’t walk here. We don’t walk. Even if you have to trot, you have to do it. I don’t want to see you walking”, he says. “I can’t take it any more. I’m tired”, we replied. He laughed. With a mocking look on his face, he asked us to do 10 push-ups. All the girls did them. The race lasted 30 minutes because the journalist couldn’t hold on any longer. Then came the soup (the morning coffee). “We asked the trainer: “Is this bread without content? “Yes,” she replied. In the morning, each VDP and FDS has coffee with this bread without butter or jam. What’s more, the bread served is light. “That’s a lot and we like it. At the front, you don’t even think about having this grace,” comments a young VDP.

“Now that you’ve finished eating, we’re off to the shooting range,” says a supervisor. A vehicle loads the targets for the range. We have to walk to get to the site. A supervisor met us at the gate and told us to go and say hello to a leader. “Good morning sir”. He smiled and ordered us to run and ask how to greet a chief as he walked further away. “No, it’s not like that. Go back again,” he orders. “You have to stop at least 1.5 meters away from him and say ‘my respects chief’,” advises the framer. Which you do. “Phew! It’s not easy here”, we murmured. “What did you say? You have to crawl. Hurry up”, said the boss. Which we did, with difficulty.

The shooting range is a real school, a learning environment. For almost 3 hours, you have to dismantle and reassemble the gun, memorizing the names of each part. Before moving on to live firing. A VDP is put to the task of explaining the first lessons to the journalist under the watchful eye of the supervisors. She explains in French and then in Mooré.

 The charger, the breech, the trigger, the recuperator spring, the lever… the lesson is both theoretical and practical. “Have you understood a bit?” asks an instructor, before continuing, “You’re going to aim and we’ll see. Above all, aim for the vehicle”. “Sir, I can assure you that I can see two vehicles. One at the top, the other at the bottom”, we said. And everyone burst out laughing.

When live bullets penetrate to the soul

Live bullets loaded in the charger. Five (5) rounds for a single shot. Then 10 bullets for a burst. Standing, kneeling and prone. To fire, you have to position the gun correctly. The sensation is incredible. The shots aren’t light. They’re heavy and penetrate right to the soul.

Learning to shoot

The learning atmosphere is good-natured. But to shoot in a burst, one instructor recommends grabbing the journalist. “I’m going to fire 10 shots at the same time,” we asked.

“Yes, and that’s nothing. You’re lucky you’re dressed so lightly. In a real situation, there’s the waistcoat, the chargers and the helmet. Which are also heavy, in addition to the weapon”, he informs. It took the intervention of the camp’s first manager, Captain Z.O, to save her from the hands of the supervisors. “We have to free her, she’s seen a lot today. Don’t tire her out“, he said.

A VDP, an inspiring story

In the midst of the VDPs and in a family atmosphere with the supervisors, the exchanges are frank, with occasional bursts of laughter and teasing. Each of them has a story to tell. Each as interesting as the next.

JH was a chemist. She says she made a good living from it. But she decided to enlist to save her country. The young woman, mother of a 10-year-old child, spent Christmas away from her son. “I’m a VDP, not because I don’t have enough money. I used to earn a good living. I had a salary, but given the situation in the country, I made the commitment to come and fight alongside the defense and security forces(DSF). We’ve done the training and now we’re going out into the field,” she says proudly.

Next to her is GG, a 28-year-old mother of two. She was a hairdresser and also earned a good living. “Every time, we mourn our brothers, our husbands, our acquaintances. And when I saw that the country needed Burkinabè to make their contribution, I didn’t hesitate for a moment”, she says with conviction.

As for FG, she couldn’t hold back her tears. She lost her husband and brother in terrorist attacks. A mother of three, the young woman joined the DSF to fight. “I have lost these two wonderful people in my life. My husband and my only brother”, she says, tears streaming down her cheek. She describes a sad situation in her village occupied by terrorists in the Boucle du Mouhoun region. “Even when I came to enroll, we had to spend 3 days on the road, trying to avoid the terrorists. You have to experience the situation to understand. Our country needs to be liberated. We’ve never been through anything like this before. In any case, I’m ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. Even if I have to die, I’ll take part in this war, she says.

DS, the youngest of the group, is 19 years old. A student, she has decided to leave school to enlist. Away from mum and dad, DS has just one wish: to put an end to terrorism in Burkina Faso. Looking radiant and reassuring, she says she is resolutely committed and never intends to give up. Some thirty of them have returned from the front, each with a story to tell and a firm conviction that the terrorist hydra in Burkina Faso must be vanquished.

VDP mothers away from their children at Christmas

NF, a mother of three, is a VDP working in the catering industry. For almost a year, she has been cooking and serving her colleagues every day. Away from her children, she has sent money to her mother to buy “festive clothes” for her children. “I spoke to them on the phone. I miss them, but I’m committed to serving my country for their sake. If the country is at peace, they’ll be at peace, and I’m convinced that next Christmas, I’ll celebrate with them in health and joy”, she says reassuringly.

RR, a mother of two in her forties, also celebrated Christmas away from her family, but with pride and determination. “Every morning, our aim is to get up in good health to provide food rations for our fighters, whether DSF or VDP. We cook with care,” she says cheerfully. Like NF, she has also sent money to buy presents for her children. “I’ll certainly get leave in January to visit them and come back to my post,” she hopes. In the infirmary, they are also there. To help with care. A nurse in a private clinic, FS joined the VDP to make her contribution to the fight against terrorism.

We talked for nearly an hour, and the stories just kept coming. “You know, Auntie, here at the camp we’re in a villa. At the front in the field, we sleep in holes. Here, in the morning, there’s bread and coffee; over there, there’s none of that. But we don’t even think about it. When we’re out in the field, we’re determined to do battle with the enemy alone”, she comments.

And another adds: “Even when it rains, we get the water out of the hole and lie down in it. You always have to be ready, because the enemy can appear at any moment”. As Captain Zida, commander of the VDP training center, points out, “the assignment of VDPs does not take gender into account. Everyone is assigned according to the physical, tactical and technical skills they have acquired. Other female VDPs are assigned to combat units with the mixed marching battalions. They go out into the field and fight with the other boys. Others are assigned to support units, through the support infirmary and catering.

On floor mats in the intense cold

We spend the night with them in tents. There are about ten of them. Each one has a mat spread out on the ground with her bundle. No light bulbs, no lamps. Once inside, you have to turn on either the telephone torch or a small torch. It was bitterly cold. It’s hard for the journalist to close her eyes when she’s there.

We couldn’t take off our shoes or hats because the 2 blankets weren’t enough. And yet, at 5am, there’s still sport to be done. For these PDVs, this tent is a luxury compared to living conditions at the front, where they are confronted with everything: snakes, scorpions, cold, rain, sun, hunger. But above all, death.

 The death they face every second. But they are ready, determined, with the firm conviction to bring PEACE back to Burkina Faso. And the head of the center, Ousséni Zida, is pleased with the commitment of these women. “We are pleased with their commitment. As long as they can, they contribute, like other VDPs, to building peace. They go out into the field, they hold the kalash, because the bullets don’t matter whether it’s a male or female VDP. As for the response, they will fire like other soldiers to try to hit the enemy”, he comments. Of the 17,000 VDPs recruited and trained, around 800 are women, with varying levels of education.

Fact sheet on the national VDP training center

“The National Training Centre for Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland (VDP in french) is a reception and training structure within the framework of mobilization. It is a center that provides technical and tactical knowledge to VDPs so that they can work alongside the Defence and Security Forces (DSF) in the field. It is a training facility and a rear base. It is also a rest area once they return from the field. From there, the VDPs can visit their families, boost their morale and go back into the field.

Bassératou KINDO/MoussoNews