Former South Sudanese child soldier turned Western Sydney lawyer Deng Adut has been named NSW Australian of the Year.
The South Sudanese refugee also delivered the NSW Australia Day address in January after a Western Sydney University campaign thrust his story into the spotlight.
"I don't think I deserve to be in the spotlight because there are people here, like me, that came from South Sudan and have done well in Australia. But they chose me for a reason. For my involvement in the community and for my cause; a cause for education, a cause to make a change," Adut told The Huffington Post Australia in October.
Adut escaped South Sudan after years as a child soldier, fleeing to Kenya where the United Nations arranged a sponsorship for his brother's family and himself.
I didn't come here, to Australia, to be given everything and not pay back the debts that I owe or the expenses that other people have invested in me. I have a debt to pay for society, I have no time to waste for them.Deng Adut
The criminal lawyer worked a handful of jobs while teaching himself English and attending TAFE before being accepted into a law degree at Western Sydney University.
While running a law firm in Western Sydney and heavily involving himself in helping the South Sudanese community in Western Sydney, Adut has set up the John Mac Foundation in honour of his late brother.
The foundation will be dedicated to educating children in South Sudan, as Adut believes education is the key to eradicating war, and rehabilitating people from it.
"In South Sudan, take the gun out of the hands of the children, give them a pen and a paper and you'll engage them," Adut told HuffPost Australia.
"You'll be surprised when you give someone a book. They can't look away and glance at the guns next to them. They will read, and open their minds instead of picking up the gun and being trigger-happy.
"A pen is infectious, it's beautiful, you don't kill people with it. You're civilised with it. You reason with it and that's the most important part of the transition."
He represents the very best of what makes our country great, and has channelled his success into helping hundreds of people in the state's Sudanese community navigate their way through the Australian legal system.NSW Premier Mike Baird
While his achievements have been recognised with multiple awards this year, Adut works hard because he's hungry.
"I didn't come here, to Australia, to be given everything and not pay back the debts that I owe or the expenses that other people have invested in me. I have a debt to pay for society, I have no time to waste for them."
Adut is now in the running to become Australian of the Year on January 25. Other NSW finalists included Turia Pitt and Stan Grant.
NSW Premier Mike Baird made the announcement at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Monday night, saying Adut "represents the very best of what makes our country great, and has channelled his success into helping hundreds of people in the state's Sudanese community navigate their way through the Australian legal system."