A former child soldier has received one of Australia’s highest civic awards, the 2017 New South Wales Australian of the Year.
Deng Adut has been recognized for helping to combat discrimination and assisting juvenile offenders. The 33-year-old former refugee is a successful criminal lawyer who helps Sudanese migrants.
And he is now a contender for a prestigious national award.
As a young child he was made to fight for Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army. He endured torture, witnessed atrocities and was shot in the back.
He told VOA his ordeal began when he was kidnapped from his mother at the age of 6
“The reality started hitting you,” he said, “because there were thousands of other kids that were just, you know, sleeping on the ground, on the floor, waiting for the orders to be given so that they can march to Ethiopia, and we traveled towards Ethiopia. We had suffered a lot of thirst. We did not have water for days. We also were ambushed by another tribal group called Murle at the time.”
Adut was eventually rescued and smuggled to Kenya with the help of the United Nations. He arrived as a refugee in Australia in 1988.
He taught himself to read English as a teenager and lived in his car while studying law at a university in Sydney. He plans to become a barrister, his ambition fueled by an insatiable desire to learn.
“I am hungry,” he said. “I have been deprived for a long, long time. Even my belly, which used to be the biggest belly in town when I was a kid has shrunk to the point that I do not even eat lunch, I do not even eat breakfast, I only eat dinner. So what the idea of learning to me is that hunger in me is not about food anymore.”
The award in New South Wales puts the former child soldier in the running for the title of Australian of the Year, the nation’s most coveted civic honor, which will be announced January 25.