Child soldier Ayik Chut Deng was tied up like an animal, his face buried in the dirt, while he was brutally tortured for trying to escape an army training camp in South Sudan.
Years later, the Australian refugee, who joined the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army at the age of 12 and now lives in Brisbane, shares his story in the book The Lost Boy.
During his time in the army, Mr Deng feared for his life while being tortured under the leadership of a fellow recruit, 17-year-old Anyang, after multiple escape attempts.
In his book, Mr Deng describes how he was trained as a child soldier and learnt to set ambushes, carry out assaults and handle guns and munitions.
He said he was rescued from the rebels by his sister to settle in Kenya, which was shortlived.
“I felt like I didn’t fit in and I wanted to go back to Sudan,” he said. “I’m a tribal boy where they don’t understand anything I’m saying.”
Mr Deng, his sister and her family became Australian refugees and settled in Toowoomba when he was 19.
“I felt very happy here. The first time I put on my school uniform, I thought, ‘This is it. I’m going to make a life for myself’,” he said.
“The funny thing is, the only thing I could say is ‘me good, me child soldier’.”
However, Mr Deng’s bright future was overshadowed by a struggle to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, which was misdiagnosed as schizophrenia.
“I would cry a lot, I couldn’t cut meat because of bad [daydreams], and I had nightmares of being shot,” he said.
Mr Deng said he was wrongly medicated for eight years while living on the Gold Coast, which led him to abuse drugs and alcohol.
It took a serious car crash, becoming a father, help from a psychiatrist, and a confronting encounter with his tormentor, Anyang, in a Brisbane church to set his life on a more positive course.
“I never wanted to talk about my life at all because I didn’t feel my story was better than anyone, but after confronting my torturer, the biggest thing happened to me. The hate was gone,” he said.
Mr Deng said he moved to Brisbane to be closer to his son and former partner.
“He is 13 now, about the same age when I was a child soldier,” he said.
“I’m near my son and raising a daughter by myself. I volunteer at the Fortitude Valley PCYC and I’m happy.
“Writing a book was really good because it healed me. I don’t cry when I talk about it now or watch documentaries or news of war.”