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Rice ATM helps feed jobless during disruption due to coronavirus pandemic

Reuters, April 15, 2020 6:45PM Kids News

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A resident wearing a face mask fills a bag with free rice from the rice ATM, amid Vietnam's nationwide social isolation effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in Hanoi on April 11, 2020. Picture: AFP media_cameraA resident wearing a face mask fills a bag with free rice from the rice ATM, amid Vietnam's nationwide social isolation effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in Hanoi on April 11, 2020. Picture: AFP


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A businessman in Vietnam has invented a rice ATM* to help people who can’t afford to buy food because of the coronavirus disruption.

The automatic rice dispenser* is in Vietnam’s biggest city Ho Chi Minh City and can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The rice is free.

As of Wednesday, Vietnam had reported 266 COVID-19 cases, and no deaths so far, but as a result of a 15-day social distancing program that began on March 31 many small businesses have been closed and thousands of people have lost their jobs or can’t work.

media_cameraA woman wearing a face mask walks with a bag of free rice past stickers pasted on the ground for social distancing, amid Vietnam’s nationwide social isolation effort, in Hanoi on April 11, 2020. Picture: AFP

Nguyen Thi Ly’s husband was among those who have lost their job.

“This rice ATM has been helpful. With this one bag of rice, we can have enough for one day,” said the 34-year-old mother of three children. “Now, we only need other food. Our neighbours sometimes gave us some leftover food, or we have instant noodles.”

The machine distributes a 1.5kg portion of rice from a small silo* to waiting workers, many of whom had jobs they can’t do at the moment, such as cleaning houses or selling lottery* tickets.

media_cameraResidents wearing face masks practice social distancing as they wait in a queue for free rice in Hanoi on April 11, 2020. Picture: AFP

Hoang Tuan Anh, the entrepreneur* behind the idea, had initially donated a batch of smart doorbells to hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City before turning his technology skills to food distribution.

Vietnam’s government news outlets are reporting similar rice ATMs have been set up in other big cities in Vietnam such as Hanoi, Hue and Danang.

Anh told Vietnamese government media he wanted people to feel they still had access to food and resources, despite the current financial* difficulties they found themselves in.

“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,” he said.

Vietnam’s government has introduced a package designed to help the country’s most vulnerable* but some people, such as Ly and her family, have not received enough support.

“I read about this rice ATM on the internet. I came to check it out, and couldn’t believe it came out for real. I really hope the sponsors would keep doing this until the end of the pandemic,” said Ly, adding that her family’s biggest problem was now paying their rent.


  • ATM: short for automatic teller machine, used for getting cash from your bank
  • dispenser: gives out a measured amount
  • silo: tank for grain
  • entrepreneur: a person who sets up new businesses
  • financial: to do with money
  • vulnerable: at risk of harm or having problems


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  1. Why are many people in Vietnam unable to afford food at the moment?
  2. What does an entrepreneur do?
  3. Which cities in Vietnam are mentioned?
  4. What does the rice ATM assure or remind people?
  5. What else does Ly say she is worrying about?


1. Critical Thinking
The rice ATMs sure seem to be having a positive impact for people in Vietnam who have been affected by coronavirus restrictions. Think critically about the idea to answer the following:

  1. What do you think has made this idea so successful?
  2. Can you think of any problems that the idea could encounter?
  3. In order for the idea to work as intended, what do you think potential users need to consider?
  4. Can you think of a way to adapt this idea for use in your local area? Write an explanation and draw a picture to show how your idea would work.
  5. Give an example of a way you have heard of Australians helping others out during coronavirus restrictions, in a similar way that Hoang Tuan Anh has done for his community in Vietnam.
  6. How does this story make you feel? Why?

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Design signage that could be erected by the rice ATM giving some clear and simple information about what it is, who it’s for and how to use it.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

Punctuation Pursuit
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many pieces of punctuation as you can find in green. Discuss how these are being used, where and how often. What level of the punctuation pyramid is the journalist using in this article?

HAVE YOUR SAY: What could children do to help others during the disruption?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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