Retracing Barack Obama’s footsteps in Indonesia: Stories by his Indonesian schoolteachers

Apart from excelling in Maths, Barry Soetoro aka. Barack Obama has always had the talent to lead since his childhood. This left-handed pupil often became the mediator whenever he saw his friends fought.


Ceacilia Sugini’s eyes stared wide open as she saw Barack Obama’s photo in Jawa Pos (the head company of this daily) on last Friday’s edition. This grandmother of two kids is certain that that is the picture of Barry Soetoro, her former student in Francis of Assisi Primary School (SD Fransiskus Asisi), H. Ramli Street, Menteng Dalam, Southern Jakarta, around 39 years ago. “He turned different in his adulthood, hm? I remember his chubby cheeks, which was very cute,” she added.

The retired teacher who now resides in the West Pancoran Street, Southern Jakarta used to teach Maths to the small Barry (Barack Obama’s nickname during his stay with his Indonesian stepfather). “He liked that subject very much. He was quick and adept in calculations,” she said of the man who is now contending against Hillary Clinton as the main Democrat Party presidential candidate.

In year 1968-1969 when Barry went to school in Francis of Assisi Primary, she used to teach in three classes, namely grade 1, 2 and 3. “Of course, there weren’t so many primary schoolteachers back then,” she said.

The woman who was born in Kalasan, Jogjakarta also noted that the Harvard graduate Illinois state senator was also a left-handed. However, his handwriting was comparably neater than other pupils. “he never looked for troubles in class. In other words, the boy was a calm and compassioned kid,” she explained.

What about the religious education? According to the woman who is also called Mrs Hananto, the small Barry used to attend Catholic classes in school. “The name of the school (Fransiskus Asisi) was still under Asisia Strada Primary which is under the umbrella group of Strada Foundation. It is a Catholic foundation. Every students who enrol there must attend the religious lessons,” she said.

So then, how could there be rumours that Barack Obama studied in madrassa (Islamic religious school)? The mother of three sons could only guess that the foreign reporters had gotten the wrong perceptions. “Due to the name of Asisia, it might have been thought of as an Islamic religious faction,” she stated.

The woman who has retired from the teaching industry since 1980 admitted that she is proud having taught Barry who was born in Honolulu, 4 August 1961. After Barry nominated himself as an American presidential candidate, she had been asked about Barack Obama by her friends. “In a parish board meeting three days ago, I was asked what I’d do if Barry wins. I only answered that I’d be very happy to have a pupil who could become a president,” she added with a smile.

Like Ceacilia, other Assisi Primary teacher, Israela Parera, 63 also had the impression that her pupil, Barry, who had curly hair and curved eyelashes, would one day become a great person.

He has had a strong leadership knack since he was a kid. He used to be a mediator whenever he sees his friends fought. Coincidentally, his body was also bigger than the other pupils,” said Israela, who hails from Manado.

The grandmother of three kids also explained about one day, when she tasked the pupils to write a short essay in Indonesian language. The theme was about their future ambitions. “That time Barry wrote that he wants to become a president. The essay was not long, only half a folio page,” she explained.

According to the woman who is also familiar being called Mrs Is, when the school was entirely renovated 15 years ago, a lot of the teachers’ documents were lost, including Barry Soetoro’s student identity which had also disappeared. “That time we haven’t had an admin yet, everything was very modest. We even had woods behind the school. The children used to call it the Assisi forest,” she elaborated.

Mrs Is remembered vividly how the small Barry was used to be brought to school and fetched home by his mother, Ann Dunham, who is a white American (and had an Indonesian husband Lolo Soetoro, Barry’s stepfather. “Her mother was very friendly. Every time she brought Barry, she always took him to the class door. And she fetched him at the school gates after school,” she said.

Another thing Mrs Is could recall is Barry’s lunchbox at school. “He always brought bread to school. It was rare enough to have bread those days,” she said.

Just like Ceacilia, Mrs Is also admitted that Barry attended Catholic lessons at school. “It was compulsory for every student. However, he also often went to a musalla (Islamic room set aside for prayers) near his house as Barry’s (step)father was a Muslim,” she added (Barry’s house was also located in Hj Ramli Street, where Assisi Primary was).

Barry Soetoro enrolled in that school for only two years. Then, he was transferred by both his parents, Ann Dunham and Lolo Soetoro, to Trial Primary (SD Percobaan), Besuki Street, Menteng (now 1st Menteng Public Primary School, or SDN 1 Menteng). In the public school (1970-1971 until his middle of 5th grade), Barry was registered as a pupil of Muslim religion.

Regarding the religion that Barry adheres to, Anis bin Hajj Asmari, 48, the man who had been mandated by Erna, the wife of Lolo Soetoro after his divorce with Ann Dunham, to sell the house they had occupied in the Inner Menteng vicinity, admitted how well acquainted he is with the Soetoro family.

“Barry always went to the neighbourhood musalla every afternoon. Yep, around 4 to 5 pm. Then he always hurried home after that,” he said.

According to Anis, the Lolo Soetoro’s family discipline is very strict. Apart from the tall gate, the house was surrounded by a 2.5 metre high wall. “However, Mr Lolo was a very down-to-earth kind of guy. As an oil expert, he often went out of town. But whenever he’s home, he often went out with us and join the neighbourhood night patrol,” he said.

According to Anis, the house that was occupied by the Soetoros was sold for Rp 400 million (1980 currency). The price had included the land and garden with an area of 268 m². She also added that Maya Kassandra Soetoro, Barack Obama’s stepsister who now resides in USA also obtained portion from that amount of money. “When we managed the selling, I faxed her several times,” she said.

Barack Obama also had several friends who are now eminent persons in Indonesia. One of them is Emirsyah Sattar, the Chief Director of Garuda Indonesia, the main Indonesian airline. Emir was a student in Trial Primary, Besuki Street, in 1968-1972. “I still remember (Barry) that time, although vaguely,” he said when contacted by this daily.

Apart from Emir, there is also Junino Yahya. The man who is now the Deputy of Internal Supervisory and Public Complaint of Corruption Watch Commission was his senior. “Barry loved to attend the boy scouts activities,” he said.(*)


Above is a translation by Toshihiko Atsuyama of this site, hence the courtesy is fully held by Manado Post Online.


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