“Make Australia Your Religion”: Deng Thiak Adut At Changing The Ratio

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 28: XXX speaks during B&T Changing The Ratio 2018 at Belvoir Street Theatre on May 28, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images for B&T)
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B&T‘s Changing the Ratio was held earlier this week, and it was a killer day (if we do say so ourselves). In our mission to make inclusion, diversity and equality the norm in our industry, the event saw spectacular speakers and thoughtful panel discussions provide attendees with game-changing ideas.

Our keynote speakers (headlined by Lisa Wilkinson) were a highlight of the day – and included an inspiring speech from Deng Thiak Adut.

Adut is a child soldier and refugee turned human rights lawyer and Australian of the year, who was conscripted to fight in Ethiopia at only six years of age.

“I didn’t have rights to question anybody. I was sent there to die for somebody else cause,” he told the audience, all of whom were listening eagerly.

“I lost my mind – to the point that I used to go and eat other children’s dungs.”

During the course of war, Adut was shot four times – once in his testicle, which he then lost.

Because of this, Adut said people would label him as disabled, but that he never paid any attention to labels – as labelling someone says more about the accuser than the accused.

“Labelling other people is your problem, not my problem,” he said.

But Adut had been to hell and back before being shot.

“I was naked, barefoot [when I was taken], now let’s look at what happened to me,” he said.

The children were made to walk thousands of kilometres from South Sudan to Ethiopia to fight.

“In Ethiopia, my body gave up,” Adut said.

He developed a plethora of diseases including chicken pox and malaria – and was so thin his bones were poking out.

Adut explained to the audience that Sudan was not an inclusive society and that it was divided by religion.

“If I [wanted to] qualify for a passport, I [had to] have Islam as my religion,” he said.

And Adut said that you have to stand up for an inclusive and equal society (and in our case, industry) if you want anything to change.

“Somebody has to do something to change that. And if you can’t stand up for it, then who will?”

That happens to be the very mission of Changing the Ratio – to inspire attendees to start change within their own organisations.

Someone who inspired Adut was his late brother, John Mac, who smuggled Adut out of Africa and got him to safety.

But after getting an education and paying university fees, John Mac couldn’t “get a job because he was like me,” Adut said.

And because he couldn’t find any opportunities in Australia. He eventually returned to South Sudan to do aid work and was killed there, leaving six children behind.

So Adut started a foundation for his brother, giving out scholarships to study for refugees and migrants. And the first people to receive scholarships were Islamic, despite Adut’s past with the religion.

“I was never given opportunity to choose for myself. To think about me. To know whether I’m a human or I’m not.

“But you gave me opportunity. You made me the NSW Australian of the year. I was given that opportunity. So I give it back. I owe that to this society,” he said.

Adut also spoke about needing help when he first got to Australia and said that “Australia should move forward towards helping the refugees and migrants and be a part of it.”

“Make Australia your religion, don’t divide Australia,” he said.

“If you don’t respect the person next to you, you can’t move forward.”

Deng Adut is the co-founder of leading Sydney criminal law firm AC Law Group.

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