As a girl, Onjali Rauf longed for the call of ‘Lights out!’, so that she could read for hours by the glow of the street lamp outside her bedroom window. However, it wasn’t until years later, when she found herself in St Thomas’ Hospital, London, that Onjali began to think up stories directly impacted by her works. A lifelong human rights campaigner and refugee aid volunteer, Onjali never dreamed her experiences would lead to her becoming a children’s author. But whilst recovering from life-saving surgery, the 8-word title of a debut children’s book took hold and refused to leave her. She wrote ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ – a story about a refugee boy who walks into a UK classroom – in the hopes that a few children interested in the global refugee crisis might want to read it. Instead, the book went on to be read by thousands of children – along with parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians. As her readers began to self-mobilise on behalf of refugees everywhere, Onjali realised that she had forgotten a fundamental truth: that when it comes to understanding and righting the wrongs of the world, children are the most profound and powerful vehicles of change.
Onjali is the founder and CEO of Making Herstory: an organisation mobilising men, women and children from all walks of life to tackle the abuse and trafficking of women and girls in the UK and beyond. She is also the founder of O’s Refugee Aid Team, which works to aid refugee response units in Calais, Dunkirk and beyond. Her first book, ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ went on to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019 and the Blue Peter Book Award 2019. Her second children’s novel, ‘The Star Outside My Window’, tackles the impact of domestic abuse on children’s lives.