Children from the elementary school that Barack Obama attended in Indonesia were brimming with pride when a statue of the president as a 10-year-old boy was unveiled in a Jakarta park on Thursday.
Scores of students from the nearby Menteng 1 Elementery School were among a crowd of 500 who applauded as Jakarta Mayor Sylviana Murni unveiled the almost life-sized statue of ayoung Obama smiling at a butterfly that has landed on his upheld left thumb in Taman Menteng Park.
"I am proud of him because I am studying at the same school as the American president," said Irsyad Dio Raihansyah, a 9-year-old school boy. "Now I've seen his statue, I can't wait to meet with him for real. I hope he will come to visit us."
While polls suggest Obama's popularity is waning in the United States, his charisma appears untarnished in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, where he lived from 1967 until 1971 with his American mother, his Indonesian stepfather and his half-sister. The park was previously an athletic field near Obama's former school.
Lina Amelia brought her two children, who attend the school, to see the statue.
"We are proud that a world leader once lived here, went to school here and played with local kids," the 37-year-old housewife said. The statue "will motivate children to study harder to reach their dreams."
For some here, Obama's presidency represents a bright spot in otherwise troubled relations between the U.S. and much of the Muslim world.
"Obama remains a popular figure for many Indonesians despite how poor the US image is in the eyes of the Islamic world because he has lived and interacted directly with his Muslim friends and neighborhood here," said Mohammad Sabar, 41-year-old civil servant. Money for the bronze statue, which cost more than $10,000, was donated by eight Indonesian patrons, a television station and a charity that helps Indonesia's urban poor, said Ron Mullers, the chairman of the nonprofit Friends of Obama Foundation. The Indonesia-based foundation came up with the idea of the statue and found the donors.
Obama has described his Indonesian experience as both exotic and enlightening.
He had a pet monkey and baby crocodiles swam in a pond behind his house. But he also saw Third World poverty and disease. The statue's pedestal is inscribed with a paraphrased quote from former US first lady Eleanor Roosevelt reading, "The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams."