“Integrating teaching with everyday life helps kids to understand concepts better and learn quickly,” he said.
“I used to punish children physically. Then I realized it was ugly to see an adult hitting a child. So I never did it again,” he said.
“When I could not save kids from being victims of domestic violence, I went to pick fights with the adults who physically abused the kids. For this, I was punished with fines. In one year, I received 10 fines of NT$30,000 (US$1,000) each, for a total of NT$300,000,” Chen added.
“Once a father with a history of domestic violence got drunk and chased his child to my Bookhouse, carrying an Aboriginal curved-blade sword. I took a bigger sword to scare him and other abusive adults off,” he said. “From then on, the neighborhood children all knew that if they ran to my Bookhouse when they were threatened, they would be safe.”
As time went by, more children showed up at the Bookhouse. Other adults, with the same belief and passion for helping children, also started to offer their assistance. Some were from Taipei and Kaohsiung, others came from Taitung, Nantou and Penghu.
Chen’s organization grew, but costs also multiplied. He first used his life savings of NT$5 million to run the Bookhouse, but it was not enough and he ran up debts of more than NT$2 million. He tried at many places to get loans, but people did not want to lend him money.
Chen then started a donation drive. Now a number of corporations are making monthly donations to pay some of his teachers’ wages, but he still needs more financial support.
“In the first three years, I ran out of money. My wife could not stand it anymore and she filed for divorce. I also parted ways with many friends. Then I started to have health problems and felt that I could not carry on anymore,” he said.
One Taitung resident described Chen at the time: “He looked like a homeless person.”
However, Chen said he had a religious calling. He said that God told him: “Your burden will be lightened. You will feel that you are not strong enough, but when the next day dawns, you will find the strength to carry on.”
Chen then became a Christian and realized his mission in life.
“These more than 300 children are a heavy burden, but they are my family members. As a family, I should do something for them,” he said.
He made his Bookhouse self-sufficient by growing and selling organic vegetables. He said this is also a way for the children to get to know the land, while developing local economic networks and creating job opportunities.
Now Chen’s two sons are studying at university and they have come to understand why their dad became a surrogate father to the neighborhood’s children.
“We want to change the lives of these children. We can give them hope,” Chen said.
His Bookhouse cooks lunch for the children every day, and they all say grace before eating their meal.
The Taitung Kids’ Bookhouse now has more adults who help where they can, who are willing to bear the load and give hope to the children.