RESCUING CAMILA: Vidalia family teaches Peruvian child to play, love

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — In the last three months the world has been one of new experiences and wonder for 3-year-old Camila Reed. Instead of being alone in an orphanage in Peru, Camila's world is filled with loving parents and three brothers. Camila watches the world around the Reed house in Vidalia from her mother Calley's shoulders as her father Danny carries his 3-year-old son Amaus on one of the family's daily walks.

VIDALIA  — Chasing her older brother around the den, 3-year-old Camila Reed showed her adoptive father how far she has come in four months since the crib at a Peruvian orphanage.

Danny Reed’s head shifted from one side to the other as his eyes followed his children — Josiah, with his blond hair and green eyes, and Camila with the same caramel coloring as her new Dora the Explorer doll.

The interaction was a new one — one of dozens of firsts for Camila since meeting her new family.

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“Just over the last week, there’s a huge spurt in her bonding with her brothers,” said Danny, Camila’s new father.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — With a new family comes a new family routine. Camila Reed smiles as her new family says the blessing around the dinner table.

The closest thing Camila had to a family at the orphanage was her “Tia,” who juggled her care with the needs of seven to 12 other children at a time.

Click here for more photos of Camila and her new family

Calley, Camila’s new mother, said before, when Camila saw her brothers playing, she didn’t really know what to do. Camila would run up to them and stand there, often tucking her head in her chest and covering her face with her arm — a sign that she is nervous.

But every week, the couple notices signs of their daughter learning to be a regular child, they said.

When Danny and Calley first met Camila, they fell in love in person with the daughter they had loved throughout the adoption process limbo and the little girl whose room had been set up six months earlier.

But there was a cloud over Camila’s mind, it seemed, Calley said.

“Camila had no idea what was going on,” Calley said.

The child had experienced three febrile seizures, and the government-run orphanage heavily medicated her with antiepileptic drugs.

“In the United States and most developed countries, they don’t medicate (seizures brought on by fever),” Calley said. “And the medicine (Camila was taking) is only given to adults.”

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Camila Reed plays with her hands in the light of her new bedroom window. Her hands were often her only toys in Peru.

It wasn’t until a week later, still in Peru, when the couple started to see Camila transform, that they realized how sedated she probably was when they first met.

Calley theorizes that side effects of the epileptic medication made Camila hyper, so the sedatives were likely administered to keep her calm.

As a result, Camila spent most of her time in a crib, Calley said.

“She didn’t have anything to do,” she said.

So Camila coped by creating habits to entertain herself with little outside stimulation, Calley said.

For instance, Camila learned to clasp the fingertips of her index and middle fingers to make a circle, and Camila often shows off the skill.

“When she’s nervous, she will look down and do her fingers,” Calley said, demonstrating the motion.

“Just playing is something she’s learning to do,” Calley said.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Camila Reed presses her ear to hear to the piano keys to her the sound of the instrument as she strikes each note.

But she loves toys, now especially her Dora doll. And Calley said Camila’s beginning to mimic her mother.

“(Camila) will throw her purse across her and say, ‘Chow,’” Calley laughed.

Milk shakes were another first.

“I couldn’t get the cup out of her hand,” Calley said

When she got her first pair of sparkly pink tennis shoes, she couldn’t stop leaning over, peering at her pretty feet as she walked, Calley said.

And since Camila was bathed at the orphanage in a running shower, swimming in the bathtub or a pool is a new experience.

“If she sees her bathing suit, she puts both arms through the straps, (indicating), ‘OK, I’m ready to go,’” Calley said.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Three-year-old Camila Reed tries to peek under her brother Amaus' bedroom door to see what he is doing.

Camila came to the orphanage in Iquitos, Peru — a town of 450,000 people landlocked by the Amazon jungle — when she was 8 months old. The Reeds were told Camila showed severe signs of malnutrition when she arrived.

When the Reeds went to Iquitos to meet Camila, they got a harrowing glimpse into what life could be like for Camila had their fates not crossed.

Iquitos is known for its sex trade, Danny said, and prostitution of children is rampant.

“Pedophiles come from all over the world (to Iquitos),” Danny said.

Though he was warned to be careful, Danny ventured to the market at night.

“There were so many street kids, and at night it’s an open drug market,” he said. “Eight-year-olds are out there dealing coke, and addicts were waking up off tables.”

Danny, the pastor at Cornerstone Church in Vidalia and an agent at Reed Insurance, and Calley, a stay-at-home mother who home schools her children, said exposure to a way of life like that opened their eyes and made their mission all the more meaningful.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Camila Reed's night routine includes a bedtime story with her brother Amaus. The favorite bedtime book is "Go Do Go!"They said they can’t be sure what fate Camila would have faced if she had grown past the maximum age to be eligible for adoption. But ever since Camila left the orphanage without a single possession including the shirt off her back, that’s not something they have to worry about.

“I guess we know God led us straight to her,” Calley said.

Dealing with Camila’s adjustments to affection and social interaction gets placed into perspective when they consider from where she has come.

“The healing process takes time, but we look at it like — that child has been rescued, why not be grateful (for that)?” Calley said.

Camila acts like a normal child — a happy one who loves toys, purses, her favorite book “Go Dog Go” and tea time with her dolls.

But the Reeds said they will not forget the first time she heard a hair dryer — the way she ran to the other side of the apartment in Peru and covered her face with her arms — or how she cried during her entire first flight on an airplane, presumably because she thought she was going to be abandoned again.

The Reeds are as certain as they love their children that God willed Camila into their lives and her into theirs, they said.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Camila Reed beams as her new father Danny Reed tucks her in bed and kisses her good night,

But with three boys and a baby on the way, the Reeds said they have faced those family members who seem reluctant to keep their judgment at bay.

“‘If this is God’s will it’s going to be his will (that you) grow two extra arms,’” Calley said she was told.

“It seems like a crazy thing, but your hands are full when God says they are,” Calley said.

Calley said her family has young children — Josiah, 8, Isaac, 6, and Amaus, 3, lives in a double-wide trailer and would not usually be the ideal candidates for adoption in the United States or internationally. But ever since the day the couple simultaneously, yet independently, realized they wanted to adopt, they took it as a communication from God and followed it.

Some days were more difficult than others during the adoption process, but signs kept encouraging them forward. In January, when Calley was praying for the money for the next step in the adoption process, she flipped to her daily devotional.

Exodus 2:9 happened to be the passage that day.

“Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages,” it read.

“I cried my eyes out,” Calley said.

Through sales of chicken dinners, homemade aprons, scrap metal, anonymous donations in the mailbox and the grace of God, the couple was able to come up with $32,000 to adopt Camila without owing a dime, they said.

As Camila got to know her brothers through play — something new and exciting to her and so natural for them — Danny spoke about what he hopes bringing her into their family will do for his sons.

“I hope they’ll be more selfless and see that this world is bigger than the bubble we live in,” Danny said. “And that when God puts a dream on your heart, he will provide.”

“That, and that they’ll enjoy the fire out of their little sister, and her — them.”