For thousands of young Syrians living in refugee camps in Lebanon, illiteracy is a growing concern.

While the conflict in their home nation - now in its seventh year - continues with no real sign that it will end soon, they’re growing up in tent cities without the benefits of schooling. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 250,000 school-aged Syrian children are missing out on an education.

An initiative from the Bible Society is looking to help change that. Through its partner on the ground – Bible Society Lebanon, Bible Society Australia is hoping to fund a Bible-based literacy program which aims to teach thousands of young Syrian refugees to read and write.

BSA refugee appeal Camp youths

Youths meet with Bible Society representatives in a refugee camp in Lebanon. PICTURE: Supplied.

Nic Capp, Bible Society Australia’s national donor care manager, was among a team which visited one of the camps, Rihanyie, in Lebanon in March.

“In these refugee camps, there is a high degree of illiteracy, and the aim of the program to teach 6,000 young refugees in Lebanon to read and write over the next three years,” he says, noting that levels of illiteracy tend to be higher among younger children who may have missed critical early years of schooling.

“In these refugee camps, there is a high degree of illiteracy, and the aim of the program to teach 6,000 young refugees in Lebanon to read and write over the next three years."

- Nic Capp, Bible Society Australia’s national donor care manager.

Mr Capp says that the Bible is the principle text used in the program and the young people – who are mainly aged from about 12 to 17 - are left with Scripture references to help with their reading.

The camps where the initiative is being undertaken are home to Syrian Muslim refugees. The refugees, some of who have been there for five years, live in cramped conditions in tents with limited access to basic necessities such as electricity.

“All the normal things that we take from granted here, either don’t exist or they’re very limited – like toilets, showers – so it’s very rudimentary," says Mr Capp.

He notes that before visiting the camp, he had expected to be confronted by the sights, sounds and smells that he encountered there.

“But what I found was in fact that it wasn’t so much the smell, it was more the sense that pervaded the place – amongst the adults in particular," he says. "There was just a real sense of almost hopelessness.

"But the wonderful contrast, if you like, was with the young people. You saw these bursts of almost joy and hope for the future and a couple of young lads that we spoke with [talked] about wanting to become builders, engineers, doctors. They had a dream for the future whereas, with some of the adults, there was a degree of hopelessness.

He recalls speaking to one man who told him that he saw "no hope" for his future.

"And he would have been in his early 30s. And after we’d spoken to him, we said ‘Can we pray with you?’ And he said ‘No, because there’s no hope and praying won’t make any difference’. [But] that was one side of the ledger – the other side was the young people who just showed this incredible optimism, in amongst really difficult circumstances – boredom and just no real sense of when anything might change...It was a real contrast, the sense that pervaded these camps.”

Among those whom Mr Capp met in the camp was Akram*, a 12-year-old boy whose mother had been detained by authorities in Syria (he hadn’t seen her since) and whose father had been killed as they fled the country. Living in the camp for five years with a brother and sister, Akram had also been hit by shrapnel as he had left Syria which had to be removed in an operation.

BSA Akram

Syrian refugee 'Akram' in the camp in Lebanon.

His schooling cut short by the war, Akram can neither read nor write and is among the generation of “lost” children whom the Bible literacy program is aiming to help.

Mr Capp says that despite his circumstances, Akram was a “really positive young fella”.

“He had a dream to be doctor, he was really desperate to learn to read and write...[and] he really projected a sense of hope,” Mr Capp recalls.

Mr Capp says Bible Society Lebanon, which will be running the initiative in the camps, were already doing some “remarkable” work there and had a great relationship with those living there.

“They were received very well. We spoke with the head of the camps, the gentleman who runs it…and he was desperate for organisations like the Lebanese Bible Society to come in and work with the people there, I think, in the main, because there’s so little to do there.

“There’s a high degree of boredom and that can potentially led to problems, particularly amongst the young, so he was very keen for the Bible Society to come in there and undertake these Bible literacy programs.”

Bible Society Australia is looking for people to give money to support the project. But Mr Capp says praying for the people living there is also “essential”.

“Yes, we back here in Australia, we really need to be praying for these people because it’s just a horrible existence that they lead.”

To support the Bible literacy project, please head to https://www.biblesociety.org.au/projects/life-on-hold-td/

• Akram’s name has been changed.