I'm here today to speak for and on behalf of this little guy right here. This is Wesley Cowan.
When I talk today, I hope you will receive what I say as the words of a dad who's here to speak on behalf of his son. I am the proud father of Wesley Cowan, the little boy whose April 23, 2006, fall from a swing set claimed his life and thrust those of us who love him into a years-long effort to turn pain into purpose by building schools in Kenya on the assurances of Dalal Al-Waheidi, Craig Kielburger, Marc Kielburger and Roxanne Kielburger that those schools that we built, that we engaged donors to help us build, would be named after him, would have his name on them on a plaque on each school, to give Wesley a legacy and to serve the children in Kenya.
I know that all of you got up this morning and you likely prepared for this hearing by going through routines and procedure. I want to assert to you that routines and procedure are really never a good way to understand what I hope to convey in this hearing, which is this: That, to me, learning that WE Charity and Free The Children are embroiled in a scandal and that assurances made to donors are now in question feels like returning to my son's grave to find it broken open, defiled and empty. It feels like the place that you thought was safe and secure for the body of your child has somehow been made unsafe and not secure. Standing there, you don't know exactly how it happened. You don't know exactly who did it, but you know something is not right. That sense of safety, security and solace is damaged, and the damage is done. That's how if feels to be here today.
I want to let you know, with respect to your process, that I really did not want to be here for this hearing this morning, but from my perspective, when members of Parliament request your truth, you have to oblige. I also right off the top want to say in fairness to Craig Kielburger and Robin Wiszowaty and board member David Stillman with Free The Children and WE Charity that they indeed have blown up my phone, emails, text messages, voice mails and phone calls after I gave Craig hell over what the Bloomberg article claimed about Free The Children and WE Charity, with staff telling reporters that there were often jokes that plaques should be made of Velcro because they were so often swapped out, once the donors had left, from schools that donors thought they had built.
I also want to say and acknowledge here, because I know the media are watching, that I've had a lot of media inquiries, and for very good reasons I've held back going on the record about this situation. I'm a member of the press myself. I don't want to do this. I don't like the amount of press that could likely come about for a U.S. donor who is connected, as I am, to a presumption of millions of dollars raised, all tied back to my son and our efforts, and I have not wanted to participate in the process of selling papers or helping bloggers get web clicks for outlets or boosting ratings on the back of my beautiful son.
I want to be clear about something: Wesley's name, Wesley's face, Wesley's life of four years and his legacy were used to make money for Free the Children and WE Charity, and somehow letting media outlets make money using the same has been painful and just too much.
Before I answer your questions, I ask each of you that I can see on this screen and those that I can't to search your souls in this moment, because frankly, I don't know who the bad guys are. If there are any of you in this meeting who are seeking to use Wesley's face or name or life or legacy as a political card to play in something other than finding truth on behalf of donors, I ask, with respect, that you call off my portion of the hearing now.
That said, to frame your understanding briefly, I formed the Wesley Smiles Coalition fundraiser in the days after we left Wesley inside his mausoleum. Our group—we—paid Free The Children and WE Charity out of our own pockets, none of us with a great deal of money, to travel to Kenya three times. We were given unlimited access to Kenyan operations and staff for interviews, using documentary crews that I hired and paid for.
In Salt Lake City, I believe in 2006, our efforts raised just short of $100,000. In Florida, when I partnered with one of the largest school districts in the United States of America, our fundraising brought in more than $100,000, as I believe and have been told.
I'm also aware that over the years large cheques have come in to Free the Children and to WE Charity via my speaking around the United States and people who saw my TED Talk. All in, I believe I am connected to what I presume are millions of dollars raised. In fact, as WE Charity board member or Free the Children board member David Stillman told me on a phone call recently, quote, “Because you did this for your son, Reed, people saw that. That got groups like welders, like Walgreens, like Unilever, like Allstate, to join. So many people went over who told us, wow, if one guy did this for his son, what can we do for our company, and they adopted villages because of you.”
I want you to know something, because I believe in seeing facts on paper, and I've tried to get some of the facts on paper: I've repeatedly asked for an accounting of all monies raised connected to Wesley Cowan's legacy, and as of this date I have not been provided that accounting. I'd like it. I've repeatedly asked for an accounting of how much money our group and our groups paid to Free the Children and WE to travel to Kenya to stay in their facilities and be on their program, and so far I have not been provided with that accounting.
As a result of the scandal, and to my great mortification, I have had to contact members of the Broward school district in Florida and those who led our Salt Lake City, Utah, efforts to tell them about the reports, about my discovery, and they're horrible phone calls to have to make.
Now, also, to the bloggers and tweeters who are out there watching right now, I saw your tweets this morning. I want you to know something clearly: I'm not in a campaign against the Kielburgers or their organization. I do not wish them harm. I do not wish their families harm. I do not wish to harm any of the good work that may have been done. Very clearly, I am not, as board member David Stillman said to me on a well-transcribed phone call, out to harm the legacy of his late brother Howie, whose name is on some of the schools in Kenya. What I am doing is speaking for a child who cannot speak for himself. I'm here as Wesley Cowan's father to guard his legacy, and I want to know why his legacy feels robbed.
Finally, before I take your questions—and I know eyeballs are on this—I have a request for the rich, the powerful and well connected, the celebrity and the corporate set who lent their power to the elevation of Free the Children and WE Charity: I'm asking that you come out of hiding on this matter and go on the record, as I have had to do today.
Come out to vouch for Free the Children and WE Charity and Marc and Craig Kielburger. Come out to open all of your records and communications with them, and let people like me and other donors know that you believe Free the Children and WE Charity are indeed on the up and up. Prove it. Prove it with your brand and your big names. Let kids in Canada and kids in the United States know it, and be done with this.
With respect, that means you, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and your family. That means every corporation that engaged with Free the Children—Walgreens and others. That means Oprah Winfrey and the members of the Oprah's Angel Network and affiliates. That means pop star Demi Lovato and Nelly Furtado and Madonna, who sent her daughter Lourdes. That means Prince Harry. That means the Dalai Lama. That means Mia Farrow. That means Nate Berkus. That means Malala and any other big name whose profile, credibility and power brought Free the Children and the WE charities to being that mega-million-dollar powerhouse on the backs of children and on the back of my late son.
I'm asking all of you whom I have named and anybody out there who might fall in those categories to do it within seven days, because hear me now: None of you have lost anything. I lost a child, and here I am in front of a camera not wanting to be here. By stepping forward and telling the world that you vouch for Craig and Marc, WE Charity and Free the Children, you've lost nothing, and this is an opportunity now, when the spotlight is on this issue, for anyone who is involved with them to use their truth, their light and their power for advocacy, if there is any to be had. If you don't, your silence says everything, and people like me and my donors and legacies like Wesley Cowan's, Howie Stillman's and countless others are hanging in the balance—people like me, who stand feeling like the graves of their children have been robbed.
I appreciate you hearing me and I am ready to take your questions.