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A 'rice ATM' in Vietnam feeds the poor during the lockdown. People say it's 'been helpful'.

An entrepreneur in Vietnam is ensuring that the country's most vulnerable do not go hungry by placing "rice ATMs" in various locations.

A 'rice ATM' in Vietnam feeds the poor during the lockdown. People say it's 'been helpful'.
Image Source: redfishstream / Twitter

Several countries across the world have gone on a strict lockdown in order to slow the spread of the novel Coronavirus. This means that citizens have been warned to stay indoors and businesses - including small mom and pop shops - have been forced to close. As a result, several thousands of people will go without pay for the next few weeks. Such is the case in Vietnam, where the government instituted a 15-day social distancing program that began on March 31. With no money for food, Vietnam's poorest are looking to the country's newly-developed "rice ATMs" to feed themselves, local news outlet GMA Network reports.



The rice ATMs were developed and placed across Ho Chi Minh City by the Vietnamese entrepreneur Hoang Tuan Anh. Prior to turning his focus to food distribution to the city's poorest and most vulnerable, he distributed a batch of "smart doorbells" to hospitals. Now, he's using his technological expertise to help the hungry stay fed. He simply wanted folks to have access to food and other resources despite the difficult economic situation. The entrepreneur stated, "I refer to this machine as a 'rice ATM' because people can withdraw rice from it, assured that there are still good people out there who want to give them a second chance." While the government is yet to act on the issue of food insecurity, Anh's creation has been a valuable resource to those who would have otherwise gone without a hot meal, such as Nguyen Thi Ly and her husband.



Ly's husband recently lost his job. With a family of three children to feed, the couple was unsure about the future. Anh's invention has therefore been a blessing. The 34-year-old mother shared, "This rice ATM has been helpful. With this one bag of rice, we can have enough for one day. Now we only need other food. Our neighbors sometimes [give] us some leftover food, or we have instant noodles." The ATM dispenses just over three pounds of uncooked rice from a small depository. Users, instead of using their hands, can deploy the rice by pressing a button with their feet. Those who typically visit the machines include street sellers or folks who previously earned a living from "cash-in-hand jobs," such as daily housekeeping or the sale of lottery tickets. Thanks to the entrepreneur's philanthropy, these daily wage workers now have access to a simple and dignified method of procuring food for their families.



Employees monitor the rice ATMs at all times. This ensures that the machines remain undamaged and also means people waiting to dispense rice queue up in an orderly fashion and follow the rules of social distancing. Squares painted on the floor leading up to the ATMs guide users to stand a safe distance apart from each other. Entrepreneur Anh has set up similar machines in cities across Vietnam, including Hanoi, Hue, and Danang. Nonetheless, the government cannot rely on the charity of one entrepreneur to ensure food security to an entire nation's vulnerable population. Like other countries, Vietnam must step up and provide a stimulus package to those most affected by the global public health crisis.



At present, there are 265 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Vietnam. Thankfully, a total of 146 patients have recovered from the illness and there have been no deaths thus far. Nonetheless, the pandemic will be long-drawn and have serious repercussions on those who currently live on the margin. If the government does not reach out to help those vulnerable citizens, they may be at risk of dying of hunger rather than COVID-19. That would be the real tragedy.



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