Annisha Abidh, 2004
Hey everyone! I’m Annisha Abidh and I’ve been a Sprout leader for 11 years now. I was born in the city of San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago, but was raised in a small town called Rio Claro, in the countryside (or what we call the “bush”). I am the seventh of eight children in my family, and built a special bond with my youngest sister, whom I cared for until we moved to New York City in 1999. I am currently in the process of completing my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and hope to someday open my own childcare center for children with developmental disabilities.
Growing up in Trinidad, I was never exposed to anyone with a developmental disability. When my high school English teacher told our class about an exciting volunteer opportunity where we would be able to travel and take care of people with disabilities, I assumed they would have physical disabilities – I hadn’t even known that there was such a thing as a “developmental disability.” But I loved the idea of traveling and had worked with my aunt taking care of disabled veterans, so it seemed worth it to give Sprout a try.
My first trip was to Niagara Falls in July of 2004. The other two volunteers were from Europe (one from France and another from England) and we had so much fun! I’d never seen anything like Niagara Falls, and had no idea that something so beautiful could be so close to the city where I lived. The best part, though, was meeting and learning about the participants. Meeting them opened up my eyes to a new world. I was amazed at how much the participants knew and how detailed their memories were. I was also amazed at how much they could actually do for themselves and how creative they could be. For example, I remember one of our participants gave names to inanimate objects and created stories about them, using the activities we did as the plot. It was so sweet and heartwarming that I’ll always keep that memory, regardless of how many trips I do.
I’ve really enjoyed meeting new people, both the volunteer leaders and the participants, during the time I’ve volunteered with Sprout. The diversity has given me the opportunity to learn about my international co-leaders, their country of origin, their culture and their leadership style. I’ve also had the chance to get really close with the participants, and I’ve become an expert at handling difficult situations or behaviors. I adore our participants – they make me so happy with their different personalities and quirks. Figuring out how to manage challenging behaviors has been a long learning process, but now it’s something I look forward to. I like asking the participants about their lives and listening to their stories. It’s interesting to hear how they grew up and to learn about all of the challenges they’ve faced in their lives.
Even though there are many rewards, there are still many challenges that Sprout leaders face. It’s tough figuring out good activities that everyone will enjoy in a city (or country) that we’ve never been to before. It’s a challenge to make sure that everyone is safe at all times, and knowing that I’m responsible for the entire group. Participants can also sometimes be very demanding and hard to please. However, one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I love being challenged. I love seeing how far I can push myself and seeing what I’m capable of, and Sprout definitely brought out that trait in me. You never know what to expect when you’re going on a trip, and that’s what makes it fun!
Sprout is a life-changing experience, especially if you’ve never worked with this population before. You’ll learn so much, and you’ll see that the participants really aren’t so different from us after all. They are often much smarter than we give them credit for, and many of them hold a job and/or live in their own apartment. The participants have their own hobbies and interests, and experience love and compassion just like we do. And at the end of the day, they just want to be accepted in society, something that we all can relate to.
Sometimes I hear really emotional stories from the participants. They tell me about their lives of abuse and neglect, or that they’ve never had anyone care about them. It can be so heartbreaking sometimes because I can definitely relate to their feelings. But at the end of it all, I feel proud for being the person that they can open up to, and also for being that person who treats them as an equal human being, who accepts them and helps them have a fun and safe experience. I feel like I’ve truly made a difference in their lives.
Volunteering at Sprout is the most rewarding experience that one can have. To put it simply, you feel like you did something good. You notice it most when the group returns from a trip, and the participants are happy and expressing how much they hope to travel with you again soon. Sprout also changes how you think about this population. You realize that people with disabilities aren’t people that you should be scared of or try to avoid; they’re just people like we are! It’s definitely a lot of work, but when you realize how much the participants appreciate you and all that you do for them, you know that it’s worth it.
Sprout has changed me more than I can put in words. Volunteering has opened my mind to learning new things. It’s changed the way I think about the world in general, and also about people who have disabilities. I’ve matured in the way I carry myself and talk to people, and I’ve learned to work with and accept people for who they are – both participants and leaders. I’ve gained confidence. I’ve made lifelong friends. I’ve become a much happier person.
I’ve volunteered with Sprout for 11 years and have led over 250 trips (I think it’s a Sprout record!). There have been times that I’ve been so tired of the constant travel that I’ve needed to take a break, but I always end up coming back. When I’m not volunteering with Sprout, I feel like something is missing. I become sad – I miss the participants, and I miss the challenges!
Now I’m working in the Sprout office as Co-Director of Leadership, and I still lead trips every so often as the on-the-road trainer. This work is even more rewarding because I get to see both sides of the Travel Program and understand how much time, work and dedication the office staff puts into making a trip happen. I also like being able to make a difference on a much larger scale (being part of all of the trips rather than just the ones I lead) and passing along the information I’ve learned to both newer leaders and the office staff. I am very happy to be part of such a great nonprofit and I plan to stay as long as I’m able!