People from non-buddhist tradition should have the right understanding that Buddhist satues are not for worshipping. This piece of rock or wood symbolises wisdom and compassion. So when we bow in front of Buddha statue, we are humbling ourselves to the values of wisdom and compassion.
The statue is indeed a skillful means to invoke our concentration to such abstract concepts. A flag is a good way to explain the function of statues. Flag is just a piece of cloth, but why do people have the ritual of saluting it? The reason is that it symbolise the dignity of a country. Can you imagine going to an embassy to take down their country's flag?
In fact, I see this episode a great opportunity for the monks at Malawi orphanage to provide the local people with this right understanding.