Desire to help others drives junior's work on basic utility vehicle in Africa

By Leslie Sturgeon

Amanda Shanley

Photo provided by Martha Kille

Martha Kille, a junior soil and crop management major from Churubusco, Ind., traveled to Cameroon. She was part of a team that worked on a vehicle to help people in the west central African country. ​Full-size image (315 KB)

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Martha Kille expected to learn a lot about a new culture, new people and new ideas when she traveled to Cameroon two years ago. But she learned just as much about herself when she traveled halfway around the world.

"It allowed me to learn what my strengths and weaknesses are," said the junior soil and crop management major from Churubusco, Ind.

Kille was part of a group of Purdue students who traveled to Cameroon in West Central Africa to build a basic utility vehicle, or BUV. A BUV is an inexpensive, durable vehicle designed to help people who live in underdeveloped areas. Reliable vehicles can help people transport crops to markets before they rot. That helps farmers earn more money and fight hunger.

Purdue students have been working on BUV projects for several years, and their mission to help was important to Kille.

"It is about helping people," Kille said. "But to help them improve their lives, you have to listen and learn from them."

One lesson she learned was resourcefulness. Cameroonians showed her how they cut a tire's inner tube into strips and use them as bungee cords. Such quick thinking came in handy. On their vehicle prototype, the Purdue team didn't design a locking mechanism for the dump bed. For the vehicle they built in Cameroon, Kille came up with solution on the spot.

"I made a bed-locking mechanism in Africa, because we needed one and we were running short on time, and there wasn't time to build one on the computer," Kille said.

Her solution was made from just a piece of scrap metal with a pin in it. It was a simple solution, but a useful one.

"I think we were most proud of the fact that we finished the vehicle in the time we had and got it running before we left," she said.

Kille also learned a lot from her fellow Purdue students — and they learned from her. Although the other students were engineering majors (and Kille was not), she still contributed to the BUV's design and fabrication. She helped fabricate and weld components on the prototype that the team developed on campus.

"I thought slightly differently than some of the other students, but that made the group better," she said.

Plus, Kille found that she was willing to work and learn wherever and whenever she was needed. Those lessons will serve her well back on campus and in the future.

"I was involved in the project as an extracurricular activity, so it was nice I did not have a lot of responsibility for major projects," she said. "I just volunteered when I had time and did what I could do to help. Sometimes it is important to step down and do the grunt work, to help where and when you can."