To understand Brandon Holder’s water-tank endeavor, start with a Bible verse.
It began in mid-July, and Holder awoke with a Bible verse in his head. He showered, brushed his teeth and went to his marketing internship in Clayton, North Carolina, his hometown west of Raleigh.
The whole time, the Bible verse he dreamed of never vanished.
When he arrived at work, he looked up the verse. Even though he was raised Baptist, went to Sunday School and participated in Royal Ambassadors, the Christian faith version of Boy Scouts, he never really knew it by heart.
Yet, when he read it, he got chicken-skinned. And it wasn’t because he was interning at Divine Marketing.
No, the verse in his head came from Isaiah 12:3. In the King James Version, it reads: “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.”
Right away, Holder knew. Haiti.
“Well, I put the water on the back burner,” he said to himself. “I guess I can’t do that now.”
Seven months ago, the HPU senior majoring in business administration started with an idea he discovered during his volunteer work last spring in Haiti. Today, he has created a mission-based business that aims to provide the world’s poor with water for their gardens – and themselves.
His idea involves a four-wheeled cart, a 35-gallon tank, a solar pump and a water purifier no bigger than an eyeglass case.
When he and nine other HPU students took a six-day service-learning trip to Haiti, Holder taught English in six villages and tapped into children’s creativity with arts and crafts.
As he worked in humidity that cemented his T-shirts to his skin, Holder saw firsthand how each village had become so dependent on water. Children skipped school to carry water in five-gallon buckets from near and far to feed the village’s garden.
Sometimes, it rained. That helped. But if it didn’t, villagers often couldn’t get enough water for their gardens. Crops withered, and people went hungry.
That’s how he came up with Water the World. And that’s what drew him back to Haiti right after Christmas.
But really, Holder’s journey began at HPU – in a room of glass in front of people he didn’t know.
‘Meeting a Real Need’
Kathy Elliott, HPU’s assistant professor of entrepreneurship, watched it unfold from her office.
Holder had ordered the equipment online using at least $500 of his own money, and with the help of his parents last summer, he made three on his family’s back porch.
He researched for hours on many nights how to make it more affordable and brainstormed with his parents in the family’s living room on how to make it work.
When he came back to school in August, he sought the advice of two people: Elliott, director of HPU’s entrepreneurship center; and Dr. Jim Wehrley, dean of HPU’s Earl N. Phillips School of Business.
Elliott asked Holder to bring his water-tank cart to HPU’s Family Weekend and showcase it in the entrepreneurship center for anyone to see.
People did see it two months later last fall, and Holder talked to many. That included Janet Smith.
Smith is an HPU parent. She is also an associate pastor from nearby Asheboro, North Carolina. After hearing Holder’s presentation at Family Weekend, she couldn’t stop thinking about what he had created.
So, less than two weeks later, she came back to HPU with two church co-workers and the director of a local conference center to hear Holder’s presentation. They came away impressed.
“God bless him,” said Smith, associate pastor of pre-school and children’s ministry at Asheboro’s First Baptist Church. “He had the presentation ready, and he talked about how he got it started, how God spoke to him, and we were so excited about it. I wanted to buy the first one.
“I just feel like it’s going to be something very successful. He will be meeting a real need.”
First Place for the ‘Whatever Child’
As Holder talked, Elliott listened from behind her desk in her glassed office. She watched Holder answer every question, and she couldn’t help but think that this is exactly what the center needs to be – helping students reach their dreams.
That happened for Holder.
“That business is inside of him, and everything he knows about it comes from the heart,” she said. “He knows what he wants to do.”
So far, Holder has sold three Water the World water-tank creations for $300 apiece: one to First Baptist Church, one to a church member and another to Caraway Conference Center and Camp.
If it works out this spring, he expects to donate a water-tank cart to Stop Hunger Now, and the non-profit based in Raleigh will take it with them next spring to Liberia.
Right after Christmas, Holder went back to Haiti with a North Carolina Methodist church, and he took with him six water filters. He earned the money to go after working odd jobs over the summer on his days off.
Then last week, he took part in a mission fair at Asheboro’s First Baptist Church. When he did, he had a water tank on a steel cart by his side.
But really, one of the biggest boosts came a week before Thanksgiving.
A four-judge panel picked Holder first out of 16 other HPU student entrepreneurs and awarded him $500 for winning the annual Elevator Pitch Competition.
In the audience were Holder’s parents, Wayne and Julie Holder. Holder didn’t know his parents were coming, and they surely didn’t tell him because they know what he would’ve said: “No, don’t come. That’s four hours on the road.”
But Holder’s parents came and stood in the back.
They always had watched everything he had participated in – from playing baseball to playing Joseph in a church Christmas pageant to pitching a product he made on their back porch.
Julie Holder calls her son, her youngest child and only boy, the “whatever child.” He was always happy go lucky, always apt to say to most anything, “Hey, whatever.”
Yet, he also was the one who bought food and water and brought it to a homeless person he spotted flying a “Help Me” sign and saying before he left, “God bless you.”
That is the son she knows.
So, when it comes to Water the World, Holder thinks of people – or really two. He knows them by their first names.
Jacquelin and Titu.
Holder’s Faces of Haiti
Holder met both Jacquelin and Titu during his six days last spring in Haiti.
Titu was no more than 7, a skinny kid whose hair carried a red orange tint because he was so malnourished. When he saw Holder, Titu grabbed Holder’s hand and climbed on his back for a ride.
The only English words Titu spoke? “Thank you.”
After one piggyback ride one night, Holder saw Titu scamper into a ditch two feet deep. Titu was looking for food.
Then, there is Jacquelin. He was his group’s tour guide. He was 19, a slender, inquisitive teenager who spoke English well.
One day, Holder’s group gave Jacquelin a heaping plate of rice and beans. Jacquelin had no idea Holder was watching him, but Holder saw Jacquelin give his plate to at least five young boys who were hungry.
Those images of selflessness and want cut Holder deep.
“I see this as a calling,” Holder said. “When you meet people from the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and see how bad it is for them, you have a burning desire to help in some way.”
And his desire is only six months old.
“It’s crazy to think that it started as an idea in mid-July, and by the end of the year, we’re distributing on a global level,” he said. “But there is real opportunity for Water the World because people want to help, and I have a way.”
He thinks of his way every time he looks at his left wrist. He wears a beaded black bracelet he got in Haiti. When he sees it, he thinks of two people.
Jacquelin and Titu.
“That’s my motivation,” Holder said. “I see them flash through my head, and I think I’m doing it for them, and when you break it down like that, you realize people have it way harder than you do.”