News & Views

From Abuse to Self-Sufficiency: An Indonesian Woman’s Path to Independence

Merie has seen more than her share of struggles, but her strength and tenacity are what bring us to highlight her story today. Merie has been in and out of the HIAS Pennsylvania offices for over a decade as we helped her gain legal status and a new life in Philadelphia.

Merie was born in Borneo, Indonesia and grew up in Jaffa, where she eventually married a man with whom she owned a business, but who was incredibly abusive. She had a daughter with her abuser, who, due to a birth defect, has one hand that was never fully formed. Merie wanted to protect her girl from domestic violence and social stimigitization and give her a better life. In November of 2001, Merie finally escaped from her relationship and fled to the United States.

Merie moved to Philadelphia, where she thought about applying for asylum, but feared that there would be consequences – what if she was denied and deported? A friend told her about HIAS Pennsylvania, and in May of 2002, Merie came to the office hoping to find help. The night before the appointment, she hadn’t been able to sleep. She worried about what it would mean to expose her problems to the government with the possibility that she would not be granted asylum and she tossed and turned for hours. When she finally slept, she dreamt about what would happen if she went home. In Indonesia, she was not protected by the police; in fact, her husband was friendly with the police chief, so she could not report the abuse. The reality of what going back to Indonesia would mean gave her strength in her decision that applying for asylum was her only alternative..

When she came into the HIAS Pennsylvania office, she spent the entire day speaking to our Executive Director, Judi Bernstein Baker. Judi immediately accepted her case, encouraged her to apply for asylum, and refused to accept any payment. The HIAS Pennsylvania staff immediately got to work, and at her first asylum interview, she was approved and given legal status. Five years later, she was back in the HIAS Pennsylvania offices – this time, to apply for citizenship.  On June 18, 2007, she became a United States citizen and, with HIAS Pennsylvania’s help, petitioned for her daughter. Merie still received free services – Judi said, “Don’t pay, just bring your daughter and introduce me.” Three years later, her daughter joined Merie in the United States and met Judi, who she now sees as a grandmother.

Today, Merie has a loving partner who acts as a father to both her daughter and her son, who was born 8 years ago. Her now 16-year-old daughter has not let her hand stand in the way of her success; in fact, she is a talented artist and is attending a private arts school where she is embraced by classmates who see her work and not her deformity. Merie has been working at beauty salons around Philadelphia and is now trying to start her own salon.

Merie is extremely grateful for all the work HIAS Pennsylvania has done. “I’m so lucky – I’m alone here, but HIAS Pennsylvania will help me with anything.”


Photo: From left to right: Merie, her son, aged 8, and daughter, aged 16.
Photo courtesy of Merie.