Rice ATM helps feed jobless in Vietnam

Started in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, other machines have since popped up across the country
rice atm Rice is a key crop of Vietnam's economy, and a staple food in its culture. (© Kakarlapudi Venkata Sivanaga Raju - Dreamstime.com)

The arrival of COVID-19 has changed lives around the world in so many ways. One of the biggest is how quarantine has affected jobs and the economy.

Without people out there buying things the way they normally would, many businesses are receiving less money and are struggling to pay their workers. This means that some of these workers have either lost their jobs or are temporarily out-of-work.

Around the world, governments have come up with different subsidies, or extra amount of money, to help those out of work pay their bills and buy supplies. And there have also been some ingenious entrepreneurs who have found ways to help, as well.

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A Vietnamese woman picks up her free rice last week in Ho Chi Minh City. (Getty Embed)

In Vietnam, Hoang Tuan Anh has designed a so-called rice ATM that dispenses free rice to those in need. Each person gets 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lbs.) of rice per visit. Brilliant!

Fast and free

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People lineup at a rice ATM in Ho Chi Minh City. (Getty Embed)

Though the queues (lineups) to receive rice can be long — up to a kilometre! — one thing that happened fast was the appearances of the machines themselves.

Vietnam announced its quarantine measures on March 31, going into effect the next day, April 1. Anh's first rice ATM appeared a week later, on April 6. That's quick.

This machine was set up in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's most populous city with 9 million people. In just two days, 5 tons of rice was given out. Word of it spread quickly, leading to Anh's setting up more machines across the country, including in the capital of Hanoi.

How it works

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Though people are responsible for getting other food to complete their meals, these portions of rice are a huge help. (Getty Embed)

The phrase ATM means 'automated teller machine'. These are the banking machines that dispense cash to people. These machines are pretty hi-tech, super secure devices.

By comparison, Anh's rice ATM is fairly simple. But it's very effective.

A plastic tube sticks out of a wall. Behind the wall is a vat, or huge container, of rice. When someone wants rice, an app alerts a volunteer behind the wall, who then send the food through the tube where a person collects it in a bag.

Sticking with it

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Dispensing hand sanitizer at a rice ATM lineup. (Getty Embed)

In some respects, Vietnam has so far been pretty lucky with coronavirus. They have very few cases and deaths, and most of the country had its quarantine relaxed on April 23.

But the crisis has already put around 5 million out of work. This is why Anh's planning on not only keeping his current machines running for the next two months at least, he told Thanh Nien newspaper that he wants to keep expanding — putting up to 100 rice ATMs across the country.

It's a perfect example of how people are using their skills — Anh's normal job is designing smart homes — to compassionately adapt to this crisis. Bravo!

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