Boniface Kimeu is known for his dedication to serving his community. As an owner of a small grocery store in the town of Kitui, Kenya, Boniface routinely travels via motorbike to various markets throughout the county to make sure he has all the items that people in his neighborhood need.
Boniface also has a keen interest in providing youth in his community, especially those who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, with opportunities to learn and play just like everyone else. For Boniface, this mission is personal. Boniface himself has an intellectual disability, and during childhood he experienced discrimination from teachers and students in school because of his differences. When Boniface was introduced to Special Olympics at the age of 14, his life forever changed. “People used to know me just by my weaknesses and my intellectual disability. But when I started [my involvement with] Special Olympics, I felt included,” says Boniface.
Over the past 15 years, Boniface has transformed into a global leader for inclusion with Special Olympics. He represented Special Olympics Kenya as a football player in both national and international competitions. He has participated in numerous leadership trainings, learning how to create more opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities in sports and education. Most notably, Boniface is a current member of the Global Athlete Leadership Council, where he represents all Special Olympics athletes in Africa and provides feedback, guidance, and ideas to the Special Olympics International Board of Directors.
Boniface regularly applies his experience and expertise in inclusion by working with Special Olympics Kenya athletes and partners from two Unified Schools in Kitui. He coaches 32 athletes and 70 partners in Unified football and educates them about healthy habits such as personal hygiene and dietary choices. Boniface is passionate about providing youth in his community with Unified activities. He goes to great lengths to support their involvement, even transporting students to and from their homes if they have physical limitations or need other travel assistance.
As someone who is personally aware of the misconceptions people can have about intellectual disabilities, Boniface also proactively attends local government and community meetings to recruit students to join his Unified activities. He says he has found success in reaching teachers and parents of youth with intellectual disabilities because he talks about his own experiences with Special Olympics. “I say that I relate to their children because I also have an intellectual disability, and I list the benefits of Special Olympics in my life,” says Boniface. “Sometimes, the parents of children with intellectual disabilities think they cannot go anywhere. . . . I get them to understand how that isn’t so and how Special Olympics can help their child,” he explains.
Outside of Special Olympics, Boniface’s advocacy has not gone unnoticed. He was recognized with a Head of State Award, given by the president of Kenya, for his contribution toward building a more inclusive society in his country. Awards aside, Boniface is determined to do even more. He plans to extend his coaching efforts to a third Unified School in Kitui and hopes to influence the establishment of permanent inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in mainstream schools throughout the country. Even though achieving his goals will take time, Boniface keeps working for other people to have the same opportunities he feels fortunate to have experienced.
“When I see another person with intellectual disabilities [in need], I feel something in my heart. I feel like this person is also me, or that they are my family. I must try and help them.”
Boniface’s efforts have positively impacted hundreds of lives in his community alone, and he credits his own personal journey with Special Olympics in helping to create this change.
“People can see what Special Olympics has done for me, and that’s why they’re following me,” says Boniface. He adds, “I know that I’m changing lives, and that is my happiness.”