Deng Adut: Child Soldier to Lawyer

by Duke Magazine
Deng Thiak Adut 

Deng Thiak Adut was at a very tender age of 6 when he got snatched from his mother to forcefully fight in a civil war that went down with about two million lives between 1983 and 2005. Born in 1983 in Malek, a fishing village on the banks of the Nile in today South Sudan, Adut fought for Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in a war that ended up splitting his country.

Being a child soldier, Adut was trained to use an AK-47 at such a young age while being drilled hectic military training.

I had my first AK-47 when I was 9, and it was a beautiful piece of equipment at the time for a child. It was just like a toy. I was a child soldier, and I was expected to kill or be killed,” Adut reminisced 

The war took out his friends, he sustained different injuries with bullet wounds and shrapnel wounds from explosives. Adut and his colleague soldiers weren’t spared from contracting diseases like cholera, measles and chickenpox. Perhaps, his escape route was aimed towards returning back to the army.

“That’s how brainwashed I was. You don’t want to escape you just want to go back,” Adut said.

There was an upturn for him when his brother, John, visited him and was able to persuade Adut to leave the army.

“He told me: ‘if you leave with me, you’re going to go to school, study. You could be somebody.’… I thought: Ok, fair enough.”

Adut was able to escape from the army camp at night by hiding inside a corn sack behind a truck. Fortunately, the brothers were able to beat through all  checkpoints out of Sudan and across the border into Kenya. At the refugee camp, the duo got acquainted with an Australian family who in 1998 aided their relocation to Australia, as reported by Global Citizen.

Adut got to Australia at age 15. He apparently could not read and write and not a word in English Language he could, but the young boy then is determinedly ready to start a new and fresh life again.

“After the long journey to Australia, I laid my body down on the first real bed I’d ever seen, under my first duvet, and I slept in a country at peace,” he recalls in his book ‘Songs of a War Boy’.

With a keen determination and diligence, Adut learned English Language and finished his HSC at TAFE before proceeding to win a scholarship to Western Sydney University to study Law in 2005. While studying, Adut was able complement his sustenance by taking up menial jobs at service stations, factories, and supermarkets.

A clip forward, the 37-year-old Adut is now a successful lawyer in Sydney, helping refugees find asylum in Australia. With his devotion towards doing much of his work pro bono for Sydney’s Sudanese community, he once expressed his dissatisfaction to how Australian authorities raise eye brows against those seeking for asylum in the country.

“Not a cent should be spent on locking up these people,” he was quoted by SNS in 2017. “That’s not how we are supposed to spend taxpayers’ money. It should be spent in schools, hospitals, [given] to police officers, to nurses who need the money.” 

In honor of his brother’s memory who was killed in South Sudan in 2014, Adut founded the John Mac Foundation which has been able to award scholarships to students from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Living as a community leader in Blacktown, Adut was named the 2017 New South Wales Australian of the Year. Winning the award of recognition, he hopes that others would get the same opportunities he received to enable them “contribute something positive” in Australia despite the challenges.

In 2015, his alma mater, Western Sydney University,went on to post a video narrating his story and which went viral.

“I put the video up as a form of telling everyone that no matter how many journeys, how many problems, how many obstacles you have in your way, you have to acknowledge that your disadvantage is not entirely your disadvantage,” Adut told 702 ABC Sydney.

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