This is hands-down the best thing you’ll watch today. And it’s a commercial.

An Australian University bent the genre of ads typically made for universities with an extremely powerful and beautifully produced look at the harrowing story of a recent graduate.

It’s the story of Deng Thiak Adut, a man who made the journey from child soldier to refugee lawyer. Now, he is championing the rights of Australian refugees through his busy practice in western Sydney.

Watching this clip, it’s hard to believe it’s an ad for one of Sydney’s largest tertiary institutions. It’s a timely, moving and humanising reminder of the trials faced by refugees globally, and how much Australia can offer–-if only the country’s doors were opened wider.

Here’s more of Deng’s story:

Born into poverty in Sudan, at age six Deng was snatched from his mother and forced to fight in the civil war that besieged his country.

As a child soldier, Deng was taught to use a gun before he even knew how to brush his own teeth. He was forced to wield a huge AK-47 rifle, although his body was barely big or strong enough.

Life in the army as a child soldier was hard, and Deng didn’t have much of a childhood. “A child with a gun is somehow not a child anymore–-they’re a soldier, a killer,” Deng said.

Brainwashed by the army and routinely tortured, he lost friends in the war and sustained a range of injuries-–shrapnel wounds from exploding landmines and bombs, and bullet wounds--and contracted a series of diseases like measles, cholera, and chickenpox.

Even when presented with an opportunity to escape he returned to the army. “That’s how brainwashed I was. You don’t want to escape you just want to go back,” Deng said.

This mindset was eventually shaken when he received an unlikely visit from his brother, whom he had long presumed dead. It was his brother who managed to convince Deng to finally 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.”

So one night Deng, with the help of his brother, made his escape by hiding inside a corn sack on the back of a truck. The brothers somehow miraculously made it through all the checkpoints out of Sudan and across the border into Kenya.

Through another very lucky turn of events the brothers befriended an Australian family in the Kenyan refugee camp who in 1998 helped them relocate to Australia.

By this stage Deng was 15-years-old, illiterate, did not speak a word of English, but for the first time in a long time he had a sense of freedom.

Through perseverance and a lot of hard work Deng learnt English, finished his HSC at TAFE, and eventually went on to study law at university. He now works as a lawyer in Blacktown Sydney, where he is determined to help other Sudanese refugees navigate the court system.

His dream is to one day return to Sudan as an environmental lawyer to address what he sees as the root cause of the conflict: the mismanagement of precious water resources.

This article was contributed by Liesel Maddock, Media and Partnerships Manager, Global Poverty Project (Australia)


Defeat Poverty

Child soldier to refugee lawyer: This is Deng Thiak Adut’s story