From Slaves to Homeowners

Click through this photo gallery to meet the people of Nova Conquista.

Many among the 42 families in the Nova Conquista, or New Conquest, settlement share horror stories of toiling away on fields in Brazil's Amazon for little or no pay. Enslavement often began with a recruiter paid to lure workers to remote ranches with the promise of a salary.

Sleeping under tarps and stables, drinking the same dirty water given to animals, and far from their families and out of reach of official inspectors, these people of Nova Conquista found themselves indebted for their food, travel, equipment and accommodations-often nothing more than a shack with no electricity or running water.

But it's no longer the experience of slavery that ties the people of Nova Conquista together. It's the 5-year fight to demand that the Brazilian government compensate them for their time lost. Under Brazilian law, they are entitled to back pay, but the bureaucratic process often drags on and becomes such a financial drain that many workers give up. Not the families of Nova Conquista.

With the help of Catholic Relief Services' partner Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra, or CPT), the Nova Conquista group organized, demanded and received 2,670 acres of land and material to build more than 30 houses in their hometown of Monsenhor Gil in northeastern Brazil.

Photos by Robyn Fieser/CRS