From the west coast of the United States to the northern border of Lebanon, training people from local communities to resolve conflict and build relationships in their own neighbourhoods is a powerful tool for peace.

Akkar, situated in northern Lebanon, has long been a forgotten periphery where economic deprivation combines with a feudal system of land ownership and tenancy to fuel inequality and resentment. It is home to an eclectic mix of Lebanese Sunni and Shia Muslims, Greek Orthodox and Maronite Christians and the largest population of Alawites in the country. Sitting just across the border from Syria, 80 kilometres from Homs, families live on both sides of the divide and ties to Syria can run deeper than those to Beirut. Strong historical and family links made Akkar an obvious choice for many Syrians needing to flee the violence.

But as the number of people seeking refuge in Akkar grew, the already struggling region saw polarisation increase as divisions escalated among communities affiliated with either support to the Syrian regime or to the Free Syrian Army, and long-standing sectarian rifts in Lebanese national politics were sharpened at the local level.

In 2013, the Partners Network teamed up with the Lebanese consultancy, Peace Labz, with the idea to train local conciliators to work within their own neighbourhoods to resolve disputes and conflicts.

“The connection came through another member of the Partners Network” recalls Daniela Kolarova, Director of Partners Bulgaria. Partners Jordan suggested reaching out to Peace Labz, who had been working all over Lebanon to diffuse tensions around aid delivery, meeting with people in homes, schools, and cultural centres. “They knew the local issues and communities”. So, when EU funding to support non-state actors in conflict prevention and peace became available, the project fell into place. They did their joint planning over a series of Skype calls and Akkar emerged as the prime candidate.

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