'Rice ATMs' dispense hope to Vietnam’s poor

By Viet Quoc, Tran Hoa, Phan Duong   April 14, 2020 | 08:30 pm PT
A "rice ATM" invented in HCMC has inspired similar initiatives nationwide to help those in poverty survive the pandemic.

After Vietnam commences a 15-day nationwide social distancing campaign on April 1, and with all "non-essential" stores shut, Hoang Tuan Anh, an entrepreneur in Ho Chi Minh City, decided to lend those in need a hand.

Worried about the risk those face gathering and waiting on the street for free food, Anh invented an automatic machine that dispenses rice in Saigon's Tan Phu District.

Now, at the touch of a button, the poor can collect 1.5 kilograms of rice 24/7, with three employees working shifts to monitor the system via remote camera.

People wait to receive rice from the machine inveted by Anh. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Anh’s rice machine has provided a life-line to those in dire need. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Anh had planned to dispense 500 kilograms of rice per day, but distributed nearly one tonne on the first. Since, he has had many offers of support.

"The thing we need most now is rice. I hope to receive more community support," he stated, adding additional "rice ATMs" have been set up in District 12 and Binh Chanh.

Before long, similar machines sprouted in Hanoi and other regions across the country.

Last Saturday, over 700 people in need collected rice from a machine in Hanoi's Cau Giay District. Waiting in line, they were required to stand two meters apart and sanitize their hands before leaving with three kilograms of rice.

It took Nguyen Manh Hung two days to design and gain support for the machine after he learned about the "rice ATM" in Saigon. He dispensed 2.3 tons out of 10 on the first day, mostly to students, workers and the disable.

A motorbike taxi driver receive rice from the ATM in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

A motorbike taxi driver collects rice from the Hanoi "ATM". Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

"It is such a pity my house is too far from here, as I will finish the rice soon. I am afraid I couldn’t come back for more," said motorbike taxi driver Nguyen Trung Kien, residing 30 kilometers away in Thanh Tri District.

Another "rice ATM" was set up in Hanoi's Bac Tu Liem District on April 13.

In southern Binh Thuan, Dak Lak and Ca Mau provinces, the poor have also collected rice from similar machines amid the national semi-lockdown, posing numerous challenges to their livelihoods.

In Binh Thuan's Phan Thiet Town, a "rice ATM" commenced operation on Monday with nearly 1,000 people waiting in line to receive rice.

Nguyen Thi Nen, 73, said her family did not have enough food since she could not collect and sell trash and used bottles during the social distancing campaign.

"I am happy. I have rice and we will be fed."

Authorities have since printed locals special cards for use at the "ATMs" to receive rice.

 In central highlands Dak Lak Province, hundreds queued to receive rice from an "ATM" in Buon Ma Thuot Town Monday.

People wait in line to receive rice in Dak Lak on April 13. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Oanh.

Dak Lak residents join the rice line on April 13, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Oanh.

Equipped with a sensor, the machine, set up by the local youth association and supporting enterprises, does not require people to press any button, two kilograms of rice dispended at the mere wave of a hand.

"After one day, we supplied over one ton to around 500 people," according to Pham Thanh Thuan, from Phan Chu Trinh book street where the "rice ATM" is located.

As of Wednesday, Vietnam had recorded 267 Covid-19 cases. Of the total, 98 are active and the remaining 169 have been discharged from hospitals.

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