Students welcome Obama statue in Jakarta school

Obama statue in IndonesiaChildren at an Indonesian elementary school eagerly welcomed the arrival of a statue of a former student called “Little Barry” and were excited by the prospect that he might pay them a visit next month as president of the United States.

Almost 500 students in crisp white and maroon uniforms at the Menteng 1 Elementary School in Jakarta were greeted Monday by the bronze statue, modeled on a family photograph of a 10-year-old Barack Obama smiling at a butterfly perched on his outstretched thumb.

The statue was erected on the school grounds late Sunday night, a week after authorities removed it from a nearby inner-city park amid controversy over whether the U.S. president deserved such an honor.
But no such controversy was apparent Monday at the school that Obama attended for three years until 1971 while his mother was married to an Indonesian.

“I’m happy to see the statue of Obama when he was my age and at my school because he’s a famous leader and a good role model for us,” said Arimbi Wanoja, a 9-year-old fourth grader. “I just can’t wait to see him in real life.”

Ron Mullers, a Jakarta-born American who heads the foundation that raised the money for the statue, said U.S. officials have said Obama plans to visit the school and sign the statue’s pedestal during his first presidential trip to Indonesia in late March.

Many Indonesians are proud of Obama’s connections to their country, but critics of the statue said it would have been more appropriate to honor an Indonesian hero at the public park. A Facebook campaign attracted more than 50,000 supporters calling for the statue’s removal, and court action was initiated to force it to be taken out of the park.

Chike Lambri, the mother of another fourth grader, said the statue, first unveiled last December, was appropriate for the school.

“This school is the right place for the statue because it reminds everyone that this school has historical ties with a boy who later became one of America’s presidents and we trust him,” Lambri said. “I hope the statue of a boy Obama will inspire my son to be a good leader.”

Vice Principal Akhmad Solikhin said despite the statue now being on the school grounds, it remains open to the public.

“We will always open our doors to tourists and anybody who wants to see the statue at any time,” Solikhin said. “That’s why we placed it near the gate to make easy for people to see without interfering with students’ learning.”

Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.