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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Jungle girl' slowly adapting

'Jungle girl' slowly adapting

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Rochom P’ngieng, aka ‘jungle girl’, sits in the chicken coup where she prefers to sleep in Oun village, in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadav district.

She has never talked with her relatives, but sometimes she plays with my son

Ratanakkiri province
The family of Cambodia’s “jungle girl”, – the young woman who allegedly spent 18 years in isolation in the forests of Ratanakkiri after disappearing while herding cattle at the age of nine – say she has made steps towards a normal development but is still struggling daily with human interaction.

Rochom P’ngieng, thought to be aged 32, caught international attention when she was found in the jungle on January 13, 2007, after villagers reported seeing a naked woman stealing food.

She was identified by Sal Lou as his daughter, who went missing in 1989 while herding buffalo. She was later returned to her purported family in the Oun village O’Yadav district’s Lumchor commune.

Her mother, Rochom Soy, told The Post last week that since her exit from the jungle, she has become increasingly adjusted to interacting with humans.

She now shows a playful coyness with people, she says, in contrast to when she first emerged from the jungle and refused to make eye contact with people.

Yet a major hurdle in her social development occurred last May, when she fled her home in an attempt to return to the jungle and was later found trapped in a 10-metre-deep latrine.

The traumatic event seemed to set back her development, as she stopped helping her family with housework such as washing dishes and retrieving water from a nearby river.

Rochom P’ngieng has now stopped living inside the family’s home and instead prefers to spend her time in quiet contemplation in a small chicken coop nearby, where she both sleeps and defecates. She returns to her home to eat meals with her family.

“Every three or four days she will eat once with the family, and she never goes to the jungle anymore,” her mother said on Friday. “Now her [waste] is as high as a hill.”

Yet there have recently been some signs of a longing for a normal life.

Rochom P’ngieng’s 23-year-old sister Rochom Chanthy said that earlier this month she wandered away from their home again. Instead of returning to the jungle, she ventured into a nearby market to attempt to interact with villagers.

“A lot of people looked at her because since she emerged from the jungle she has never gone out to see a big crowd of people,” she said, adding that villagers offered her food and water before they informed her worried family that she was browsing in the market.

Although her sister doesn’t understand why Rochom P’ngieng spends most of her time alone in the chicken coop, she says her sister often smiles and interacts with both animals and children.

“She has never talked with her relatives, but sometimes she plays with my son,” Rochom Chanthy said, adding that her sister can understand a few words in Khmer and ethnic Phnang language but is unable to reply.

“I want her to learn to speak but she’s not interested in talking with us,” she said.

Sal Lou, Rochom P’ngieng’s father, said she is much more interested in eating than she once was but the family has little food to provide for her, which he believes prompted her to venture into the nearby market.

“I don’t have the ability to help her because I have gotten sick now,” he said.

Representatives from Spanish mental-health organisation Psicologos Sin Fronteras visit his daughter at least once a week to monitor her psychological development, he added.

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