Town planner Kuol Baak was 13 when he graduated as a child soldier in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Army.
Mr Baak, now 42 and living in Adelaide, last month attended his second graduation — this time for a Bachelor of Law.
“I’m really happy about that,” says Kuol of his latest achievement.
He’s been working as a qualified town planner for the Port Pirie Regional Council for the last decade and says his latest degree, obtained by correspondence from the Queensland University of Technology, gives him a legal edge in development planning.
The father of three and his wife, UniSA lecturer Melanie, run a charity called “Timpir” (‘budding tree’ in Dinka) funding health initiatives and two schools educating 1400 children in South Sudan.Kuol Baak with his wife Melanie and children Akon, Achol and Yuew. Picture: AAP / Dean Martin
“I felt a need to give back to my community because I feel as though I am very lucky and I have to do something with my blessings.”
While deeply mindful of his good fortune, Kuol laments the thousands of children from South Sudan who never made it to adulthood.
“A lot of my (military) colleagues died in combat or from disease, hunger,” he says.
“When I compare myself to them, I think it is not fair.”
Kuol was part of the “Lost Boys’’ — a group of 10,000 mostly boys aged seven to 17 who arrived in Kenya in 1992 seeking refuge from Sudan’s civil war.
Kuol was 15 when he walked through the gates of Kakuma Refugee Camp after fighting and travelling by foot for three years from Sudan to Ethiopia and then to Kenya.
It is estimated that more than half of the children making this journey died of starvation, disease and enemy soldiers and witnessed death, rape and slaughter. The “Lost Boys” have been described as the most badly war-traumatised children.
Despite his lost childhood, Kuol says it was in the refugee camp that he received an education and developed a passion for planning the perfect urban utopia that ultimately led him to his current profession.
“I think that because I was so lucky in so many ways that I don’t miss that part of my life,” he says.
“Why should I cry over a childhood and teenage years that were not ideal when in my late 20s I was able to start a new life in Australia — how lucky am I?”
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