By Your Side

Taitung’s “Kids’ Bookhouse”
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2018 / July

Esther Tseng /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Bruce Humes


What does “black kid” mean? Interpretations depend on whom you ask. Some say it refers to a dark-skinned child who labors steadfastly under the sun; but Chen Jun­lang, founder of “Kids’ Bookhouse,” says it is a child who confronts the black hole within the mind, and finds a way out of those dark shadows. In the 18 years since Kids’ Bookhouse was established in Tai­tung, “black kid” has become a meta­phor, a symbol—most of all, a deep-felt wish—for confronting family fragmentation and the setbacks faced by vulnerable children. 


As you follow Provincial Highway 11 along the coast of Tai­tung, when you arrive at Zhi­ben, on either side of the perfectly straight highway the verdant Tai­tung Plain and emerald-green Mt. She­ma­gan spread out before you. It’s easy to miss the “Black Kid Café” located near the 172.5 kilo­meter marker.

After Chen Jun­lang began looking after his own two children in the year 2000, motivated by his sense of social justice and compassion for other youngsters, in 2005 he founded the Ka­sa­va­kan Book­house. Today, nine Kids’ Book­houses are located in eight of Tai­tung’s remote tribal communities, offering companionship to nearly 2,000 children from disadvantaged households headed by a single parent or affected by problems such as poverty or domestic violence. The services they offer have expanded to include assisting unemployed people and delivering meals to the elderly, while also constructing Black Kid Café, which functions as a vocational training site.

A tale of two bowls of noodles

“It wasn’t until I was 36 years old that I began to do what I actually wanted to do,” says Chen, who only discovered that he had reached this high point in his life after founding the first bookhouse. “My motivation was quite simple. I wanted to help children resolve their problems. There have been so many challenges, and many low points that even I didn’t comprehend, but when the difficulties have been resolved, and my mind is recharged with positive energy, it becomes a driving force for progress.”

In order to spend more time with his children, who were becoming increasingly unfamiliar with him, Chen, who had previously sold cars and real estate and operated restaurants, returned to his hometown Tai­tung and sat the exam for court clerk. But to understand how he became known as “Daddy Chen” among bookhouse staff and children alike, we must begin with a tale of noodles.

It was a perfectly ordinary day back in 2000, and Chen had taken his two sons for noodles at a street side vendor. They ran into Xiao Tong, a classmate of his son Chen Yan­han, and the elder Chen naturally invited him along for a bowl of noodles. The father and son, who typically ate two bowls apiece, ordered seconds for Xiao Tong too. But soon afterwards, Xiao Tong upchucked the contents of his lunch. “Daddy Chen, it’s been a long time since I ate so much!” said Xiao Tong apologetically.   

Due to his parents’ divorce and mother’s remarriage, and his father’s even heavier drinking bouts due to subsequent unemployment, before Xiao Tong ran into the Chens that day he hadn’t had a solid dinner for three years. Since Chen regularly accompanied his sons as they did their homework, he invited Xiao Tong to join them.

“Even the coolest of kids needs care.” The gate to the Chen family’s three-sided courtyard was thrown open and gradually children in the neighborhood were attracted by the sound of guitars and boisterous ball games. More and more gathered in the yard, exceeding 60 at one point. Chen discovered that like Xiao Tong, many came from dysfunctional families where they were expected to buy liquor for their parents on their way home from school, but no one fed them when they were hungry. Or else they were being raised by grandparents, and so they hung around making trouble after school.

Surprised and puzzled as to the reason for such family situations, Chen’s sense of compassion was stirred. He began cooking meals for the kids, and the books he had used to study for his court clerk exam became the textbooks from which he learned how to help these children—given up on by the mainstream education system—with their studies.

Companionship brings change

His yard filled with so many youngsters, at times Chen couldn’t help but intervene in the “family affairs” of children other than his own. But he chose to ignore rumors of “gang-style incidents at the Chen residence.”

He continued to look the other way until one day a gang fight broke out among the youngsters, and a 15-year-old was beaten to death. Chen braced himself to attend the autopsy and cremation. “The whole process was very saddening, and the parents of the dead child’s persistence in demanding monetary compensation from the families of the instigators made it worse. It convinced me that screwed-up children are raised by screwed-up parents. I felt utterly disheartened, and I closed my home to the kids for three months,” says Chen, his lips pressed tightly together.

During this period, the children who had frequented the Chen abode paced about outside and even threw messages on strips of paper over the wall into the courtyard. Eventually Chen couldn’t help himself; once again he opened the doors to his home. In order to operate the place and feed more than 50 children, he depleted his savings despite eating instant noodles for 18 months. Fed up, his wife finally demanded a divorce. His wife gone, abandoned by his friends, and all his money spent too, Chen was on the cusp of a nervous breakdown. That’s when he told himself quietly: “This is what I want to do with my life!” In 2005, he leased a plot of land on which he set up the Ka­sa­va­kan Bookhouse (the name “bookhouse” comes from ­shuwu, meaning “library” or “study room”).

Thanks to the undeniable changes that occurred as a result of his loyalty to these children, Chen obtained the greatest possible support to carry on.

“A child who got into daily fights was suddenly the first to apologize, and became serious and courteous; a child who cursed himself for being a fat pig lost weight and became a handsome young man; an asthmatic child one day told me out of the blue that ever since he began running 5000 meters daily, he had not had another attack.” Most strikingly, when Xiao Tong discovered his father dead in the doorway of their house, he stepped over the corpse and asked Chen to “deal with it”; yet even a child like this would tenderly call him “Daddy Chen.” Xiao Tong, now a sergeant major in the army, sometimes comes back to see Chen. Thanks to Chen’s timely companionship, even a former “black kid” like him has escaped the dark shadows of his upbringing, and is no longer a pugnacious bully.     

Practicing what he preaches

In the process of helping the children with their studies, Chen—himself just a high-school graduate—promised them that if they didn’t score better on their exams, he would punish himself by doing push-ups. But the children didn’t take him seriously, and when the exam results were announced, none had improved. Chen’s sense of honor kicked in, and after announcing, “I have failed as your teacher!” he didn’t say another word—he just prostrated himself and began doing push-ups. At the beginning, every­one cheered him on, but when he reached his sixtieth, they began to cry and vowed that next time they would study harder. All in all, he punished himself with 120 push-ups, and they weighed heavily on the children’s hearts.  

“Typically, junior high school students can’t even write out the 26 letters of the alphabet, nor can they spell English words….” In order to help these students who were performing poorly at school to obtain a newfound sense of achievement, Chen, who enjoys sports, came up with the idea of taking the bookhouse children on a trip right around Taiwan. In 2009, 105 youngsters took part in the first group to cycle the length of the island. “When we first returned I was a bit disappointed, because it seemed the children hadn’t really changed. But gradually I dis­covered that the children who had been on the tour together had developed a sense of community. Previously, when the bookhouse rubbish bins were full, no one emptied them, but afterwards there were some who would step up to do so; before exams, everyone would stay inside and study, and some would score more than 100 points higher on practice tests,” says Chen proudly.

Discovering self-confidence

“A team has terrific power.” As an example, Chen cites a youngster named Jian­jie (not his real name) who weighed 115 kilograms when he joined the bookhouse in fifth grade. At that time, his enormous appetite aside, he didn’t stand out in any way. His body emitted a strange odor because his folds of skin made it difficult for him to wash thoroughly. No one liked him. When he cycled around the island with the bookhouse members, the skin on his inner thighs chafed so badly that if he didn’t constantly pedal, his legs would stick together. Crying out in pain, but also spurred on by the group, he thought to himself, “Even those weaker than me can ride up the hill!” So he gritted his teeth, endured the torment, and ascended the hills to catch up to the team.   

Many of the bookhouse kids had not previously tasted any kind of success, but thanks to cycling and, more recently, kayaking around the island, their willpower grew. Once the trips were completed, they found they had built a foundation of self-confidence, their mental energy had increased, and they had accumulated successful experiences. For children who enjoy singing and playing guitar, the bookhouse has arranged concerts; for those who like baking, they trained them to pass the exam for a Class C baking license. Jian­jie, for instance, has circled the island three times on a bike and once by kayak, and won a baking license. His face is full of color, and his expression cheerful.

From DIY bookhouse to workshop and café

Several times bookhouses came under threat of repossession by their landlords and were forced to relocate, so in 2013 Chen leased a piece of land and decided to build an adobe house there to serve as the site for the Qing­lin Bookhouse. Several older bookhouse alumni established their own “black kid” construction team, and—excepting the building’s foundation and steel structure, which were contracted to a construction company—the bookhouse was built entirely by the team. To their surprise, once the island’s first steel-supported adobe structure was completed, the team won the top prize in the 2016 Advanced Developers Association Awards for Emerging Architects.

The Qing­lin Bookhouse format inspired Chen to go on to create a second self-built structure: the “Black Kid Café,” which is dedicated to vocational training. Children who have dropped out of school or possess less than impressive academic qualifications, as well as unemployed adults in the local community, now have a “workshop” where they can acquire vocational skills.

Janusz Korczak, Poland’s “father of children’s human rights,” once said: “Children have the right to be loved, educated and protected.” In addition, Kids’ Bookhouse also gives children the right to be… children. But from time to time the bookhouse finds itself embarrassingly unable to fully cover workers’ salaries and expenses for the children. If you find yourself on Provincial Highway 11 at Zhi­­ben, why not stop off at the Black Kid Café and take a coffee to give them your encouragement and support?

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陪伴的進行式

文‧曾蘭淑 圖‧林格立

什麼是「黑孩子」?不同的人有各自不同的解讀,有人說是太陽下認真努力而曬黑的孩子;「孩子的書屋」創辦人陳俊朗則認為,是面對心裡的黑洞,走出心裡黑暗陰影的孩子。黑孩子成為台東「孩子的書屋」18年來,對抗家庭碎裂、環境挫折的一個隱喻、一個象徵,與一個期許。


連結花蓮與台東之間的台11線,到了台東知本稱為知本路,筆直的省道兩旁,綠澄澄的台東平原、蒼翠的射馬干山,近在眼前,一不小心,很容易呼嘯錯過172.5公里處的「黑孩子咖啡」。

啜著黑咖啡,吃著洛神花蛋糕,剛從大陸探勘路線回來的陳俊朗,一臉從容,為了給書屋的孩子不同的人生體驗與挑戰,7月暑假要展開騎單車環島、划獨木舟環島的活動,下個月他還要帶著書屋的孩子從南京騎到上海。

陳俊朗2000年從照顧自己的2個孩子開始,因著義氣與不捨,2005年因緣際會成立建和書屋,現在台東8個偏遠部落,共有9間「孩子的書屋」,至今陪伴近2,000個來自貧窮、家暴、單親等弱勢家庭的孩子成長;也擴及失業人口與老人送餐的社區服務,同時自力造屋「黑孩子咖啡」,作為技職實習的一處場所。

書屋的開始,吃麵的故事

「我在36歲那年,才開始做我自己想做的事,為自己而活,一輩子,把自己想做的事做完。」這個看似人生的最高境界,是陳俊朗創辦孩子的書屋後才發現,「我就是想幫助孩子們解決問題,雖然過程充滿許多挑戰,走過許多連我自己都無法理解的低潮,然而當困難解決,再一次擴充心理的能量,就能夠再前進。」

賣過車子、房子,開過餐廳與特種行業的陳俊朗,為了陪伴「年久生疏」的孩子,回到台東老家,順便考書記官。但會變成孩子與工作人員口中的「陳爸」,要從吃麵的故事說起。

時間回到2000年,一個再平凡不過的日子,陳俊朗帶著2個兒子到街角吃麵,遇到兒子陳彥翰國小的同學小童,陳俊朗隨口邀請一起吃麵。習慣吃兩碗麵的陳俊朗與陳彥翰,也幫小童叫了第二碗麵,吃完沒有多久,小童卻唏哩嘩啦全吐出來。「陳爸,我很久沒有吃過這麼多東西了!」小童歉疚地說。

小童由於父母親離婚,媽媽改嫁,父親失業後酗酒更加嚴重,遇到陳俊朗之前,3年來沒有好好吃過一頓晚餐,陳俊朗本來在家陪小孩讀書寫功課,索性邀小童一起。小童也出人意外地說好,每天晚上7點30分就到陳家報到,風雨無阻,持續了4個月。

有兩天小童突然不見了,回到書屋後,去了那裡不願意說,只說:「不想念書了。」原來考了全班第一,拿了成績單去花蓮找媽媽,但是他發現,縱使考第一名,也要不回已經另組家庭的媽媽。還好的是小童仍到書屋,他旗下常打架的手下們也被「收編」到書屋來。

「再酷的孩子都需要人呵護」,陳家的三合院開著,漸漸地,附近孩子被吉他聲、打球吵鬧聲吸引,人愈聚愈多,最多曾到六十多位。陳俊朗發現,孩子中很多像小童一樣,家庭功能紊亂,下課回家要幫父母買酒喝,當父母失意時的「出氣筒」,肚子餓了也沒有人理,或是隔代教養,下了課就在外面亂晃。

在詫異、不解為何會有這種家庭之餘,卻激起陳俊朗的義氣,在家起大灶煮飯給大家吃,原本念考試用書,改成念孩子們的教科書,幫這些被主流教育放棄的孩子復習功課。

陪伴的力量,帶來改變

家裡院子聚了這麼多孩子,甚至陳俊朗有時不得不介入別家孩子的「家務事」,「陳家聚幫結派鬧事」、「靠孩子賺錢」,這些閒言閒語陳俊朗都不以為意。

直到書屋的孩子打群架,一個孩子被15個孩子打死,陳俊朗硬著頭皮參與驗屍、解剖、火化,「整個過程已經夠傷心了,孩子父母對肇事者的父母在一旁論斤論兩地要錢,真的讓我相信,扭曲的孩子來自扭曲的父母,我的心裡真的過不去,書屋關閉了3個月。」陳爸說著,嘴唇緊閉成一直線。

這期間,書屋的孩子總是徘徊在陳爸家的圍牆外,甚至往內丟紙條,陳俊朗禁不住,再度把家門打開。為了經營書屋,供五十多個孩子有飯吃,耗盡陳俊朗所有存款,他吃了18個月的泡麵,最後太太受不了,要求離婚。老婆走了、朋友走光了,錢也花光了,處在瀕臨崩潰的低潮,陳俊朗心裡微微地告訴自己:「這是我想做的事。」但因為陪伴孩子帶來不可置信的改變,給了他最大支撐的力量。

「每天打架鬧事的孩子,有一天突然會自己先道歉,變得認真有禮貌;有孩子罵自己是死胖子,跟著運動,一路瘦成大帥哥;有原本氣喘的孩子有天突然告訴我,每天跑5,000公尺以後,不氣喘了。」尤其當小童發現父親猝死在家門口,直接跨過屍體,上門來找陳爸「處理」,陳俊朗說,這樣的孩子,還會溫柔叫我一聲「陳爸」。現在是士官長的小童,偶爾會回來看他,像小童這樣的黑孩子,因著陳爸的陪伴,擺脫黑暗的成長背景,不再是逞兇鬥狠的流氓。

生命的陪伴,以「身」作「責」

在陪伴過程中,只有高中學歷的陳俊朗,與孩子約定,考試沒有進步,就罰他自己作伏地挺身,孩子們不以為意,考試成績公布,果真都沒有進步。陳俊朗江湖氣發作,二話不說,「我自己教不好!」,處罰自己作伏地挺身,剛開始大家還鬧著起鬨,做到第60下,孩子們開始哭了,承諾下次會好好讀書,他做了120下伏地挺身的責備,重重落在孩子的心上。

「常常國中的學生連英文的26個字母寫不出來,拼音也不會……」,為了要讓這些功課不好的孩子有成就感,喜歡運動的陳俊朗想出要讓書屋的孩子環島的點子。2009年有人捐腳踏車,105個孩子環島騎了9天,剛好騎到台中,因莫拉克颱風橋斷了,錢也用完了,就坐火車回來。

「剛回來有點失望,因為孩子們好像沒有什麼改變,但漸漸地發覺,一起去環島的孩子有團體意識,以前書屋的垃圾滿了,沒有人倒,現在會有人主動倒;考試前大家一起閉關,模擬考成績有人進步一百多分。」陳俊朗驕傲地說。

多元培力,找到自信

「團隊是一個很可怕的力量」,陳俊朗舉一個115公斤的孩子建杰(化名)為例,國小5年級來到書屋,除了吃很多,沒有一個優點,身上有怪味,因為太胖肉有皺摺,洗不乾淨,沒有人喜歡他。跟著書屋去騎車環島,大腿內側磨到皮都快掉了,如果不繼續騎,雙腿一合,皮就會黏起來,孩子一邊哇哇叫,一邊因著團隊群策群力的激勵,「比我弱的都騎上坡了」,忍受著身體的痛苦,咬著牙一撐,就騎上坡跟上隊伍。

書屋有很多孩子,沒有任何成功的經驗,但透過騎車、划獨木舟環島,增加意志力,完成後,建立了信心,心裡的能量增強了,也累積了成功的經驗。喜歡唱歌彈吉他的孩子,書屋幫大家開音樂會;喜歡烘焙的孩子,輔導考丙級烘焙執照。像建杰,現已騎單車環島3圈、獨木舟1圈,拿到丙級烘焙執照,臉上有光采,神情很飛揚。

還有讓喜歡運動的孩子打拳擊,拿到總統盃第7名的小武,沒有被欺負,也不喜歡打架,當初只是因為不想看父母親每天吵架而來到書屋,嘗試打拳。他認真的說:「當初只是練好玩,現在每天花2.5小時練習,練拳不再為興趣,而是以全中運的冠軍為目標。」拳擊教練林張凱皓說,「拳擊可以訓練孩子反應力、更加機靈。」現於東海大學念研究所,本身是總統盃拳擊賽冠軍的教練就是孩子可以看得到「文武雙全」的榜樣。

泛舟環島也是書屋的特殊教育。事前經過3個月體能訓練與集訓,學習如何翻船復位與救援,利用暑假以32天用獨木舟走「海路」繞台灣一圈。雖然出海第一天,就有孩子說「很無聊」,然而,以前在台東沒有見過「外面」,繞台灣一圈後,到了經常被台北人誇讚的宜蘭冬山河,孩子們覺得並不是很乾淨;划到西海岸,溫熱的濁水,讓他們身上起了疹子;一直要划到墾丁,碧藍涼爽的海水、美麗的珊瑚礁,一經比較,才體認自家台東海岸的美,上了一堂真正的環境教育課。

照顧的延伸,技職的育成

由於數個書屋幾度面臨房東收回房子,被迫搬遷的事,2013年陳俊朗承租了一塊土地,決定自己蓋一棟「土角厝」的青林書屋。在家樂福基金會贊助下,以立國際服務動員500位志工,作了7,000塊土磚,由書屋長大的孩子,自己成立「黑孩子」工班,除了地基與鋼構的柱子需委託專業的營造廠,書屋完全由工班搭建。沒有想到,全台灣第一間鋼構的土磚屋,第一次蓋好,就得到ADA新銳建築獎首獎。就地取材、環保永續的社會價值,集眾人之力的互助精神,感動了建築專家。

青林書屋的模式,也激發陳俊朗再接再厲,自力造屋,蓋了第二間「黑孩子咖啡」,並且賦予「產業發展」的策略方向。讓輟學或是沒有亮麗學歷的孩子,還有社區失業的大人,有一處可以培養技術的實習工廠。藉由自力造屋的建築工班,種植台東的特產百香果、紅藜的農業班,製作百香果醬、百香果戚風蛋糕的烘焙班,給留在台東社區的孩子與大人多一個機會。

陳俊朗對孩子書屋的執著,吸引許多前來服務的志工留下來,變成全職的工作人員;他的故事吸引許多人,出錢出力,生命感動生命,偏鄉家庭的失能,靠著社會大眾的關心得以彌補。陳爸本人的角色,變成全台奔波演講、分享經驗,為書屋募款,減緩一年上千萬花費的壓力。

「但是我的目標很清楚」,他說,「我的目標就是要讓書屋消失。」消失?他解釋:「我心裡最底層的想法,就是誰有難,扶他一把,這就是互助的精神。透過『子自教、食自耕、屋自建』等方式,達到自給自足的模式,最後,書屋便能功成身退。」

波蘭兒童人權之父柯札克曾說:「孩子有被愛、受教育,與受保護的權利。」「孩子的書屋」還給孩子當孩子的權利,但書屋仍不時為工作人員的薪水、孩子的花費困窘著,如果有機會經過知本的台11線,不妨到黑孩子咖啡喝一杯咖啡,表達對他們的鼓勵與支持。

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