On Wednesday 12th February some lucky Year 5s and 6s had a fantastic morning, meeting the author of The Boy at the Back of the Class and The Star Outside my Window (Onjali Q. Rauf) at Pipers Literacy Festival.
First, Onjali told us all about how we should respect and help all refugees (refugees are people who have had to flee from their country or home town due to wars, political persecution or environmental catastrophes) and why she is so angry about this issue. The refugees are living in smelly camps on the outskirts of cities because they are unwanted by the countries they have found themselves in. Her experiences of helping refugees, and one particular baby boy and his mother, led her to write her first book, The Boy at the Back of the Class.
She went on to tell us about some people who have helped build her fundraising charity (Making Herstory) that supports, among others, refugees, especially women and girls, providing them with the things they need such as hot food and clean water.
One of the people who Onjali met was called Charlie. Remarkably he transformed his white jeep into a phone charging station for the refugees’ phones so they could see what was happening in their home country. Inspirational people, like Charlie, inspired the caring nature of the narrator of The Boy at the Back of the Class. Onjali believes raising awareness of the refugees’ situation, and letting every individual know they can make a difference, is very important as she witnessed a young child being forced to brush her teeth in water full of bacteria; this led to an infection which meant she couldn’t speak – only the intervention of Onjali and her team (providing clean water, a new toothbrush and toothpaste) saved the girl.
Onjali calls the women who help the refugees she-roes. Onjali also told us some surprising things about refugees, for example: Albert Einstein was a refugee, so was the Duke of Edinburgh (the Queen’s husband), we even owe fish and chips (a famous British dish) to Portuguese refugees.
Moving onto the next book, The Star Outside my Window, Onjali explained that she was particularly concerned about domestic abuse (domestic abuse is when someone is being harmed or violently threatened inside their house) and she wanted to make more people aware, especially young people, so this led to her second book, The Star Outside my Window. Onjali’s publishers only gave her one year to write The Star Outside my Window which she found stressful- she was finding it difficult to get her ideas into a story. One day, her brother came to visit (she had four months left) and saw her crying. When he heard her ideas so far he said, 'that's just like Lion King when Simba's dad told him about his ancestors being in the sky', Onjali laughed and said to her brother, “For the first time in thirty years you’ve been useful!” Earlier Onjali had told us the only thing her brother and her had in common when they were little was a love of Tintin.
After that, Onjali read us little extracts of both books. She choose really good parts of the books that really made us want to learn more.
When the assembly was finished we all joined Onjali on the stage to ask questions and get our books signed; she also gave us each a lemon sherbet as it is mentioned frequently in The Boy at the Back of the Class as the main character’s favourite sweet.
All in all it was a great trip and it gave us lots to think about.
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