banner image
The echo of hammers -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

The echo of hammers

As first volunteer and longtime staff member Clive Rainey approaches retirement, he looks back at what Habitat has built—and envisions a future where more families around the world have a simple, decent place in which to live.
By Jill Claflin

 


“I am amazed at what faithfulness to a simple vision can do,” says Clive Rainey. Photo by Steffan Hacker

   
 


Rainey, pictured here in Zaire in 1987, served as Habitat’s Africa director in his early years with the organization.

   
 


During his years with Habitat, Rainey has served in a variety of roles, from volunteer to advocate. Photo by Jennifer Graves

   
 


“Even in success the victory is never finished. Your gift is an investment that never stops earning.” Clive Rainey

   



When Clive Rainey began culling his home and office libraries in preparation for retirement, colleagues soon began joking that he had an “arclive” worth of Habitat for Humanity history—materials that even other veteran employees had forgotten or never seen.

With every book or newsletter or pamphlet he passed along to co-workers or to the official archives of the organization, he would share an anecdote or a memory or a suggestion, helping even the newest employees understand what has made him an icon in the Habitat family.

It is not his unmatched seniority or his status as Habitat’s very first volunteer that has endeared him to so many, but his passion for the work and his stories about the work. While many enthusiasms fade with time, Clive’s fervor for the mission of eliminating poverty housing has only grown. So, too, has his commitment to igniting that passion in others.

Often, he has spent vacations doing Habitat work. He spends many weekends quietly helping to build more Habitat homes. And he will spend his retirement continuing to do the same.

Whether serving as Habitat’s first Africa director, or speaking to audiences around the United States as he has done for the last several years, Rainey’s commitment to the work has remained as fresh as it was when he became the first person to join Habitat for Humanity International co-founders Millard and Linda Fuller in full-time work for the new organization.

As he nears retirement on July 1, he shares with Habitat World some of his memories and hopes.

HABITAT WORLD
:
How did you happen to hook up with Habitat?
CLIVE RAINEY
:
I knew Millard and Linda Fuller at Koinonia Farm (where the idea of partnership housing was born) prior to their time building houses as missionaries in Africa. When they returned to Georgia in September 1976, Millard asked me to come and view some slides from Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). I went to see the slides and about every third slide Millard would exclaim, “I know the next volunteer for Zaire is in this room tonight!” In the room with Millard were four or five elderly women, Millard’s then-14-year-old son, Chris, and me. It didn’t take long to figure out who Millard was talking about!

I was, however, still teaching school in Dawson, Ga., and it was an incident in that classroom that really caused me to look at Habitat for Humanity. One day as I was trying to teach seventh- and eighth-graders who couldn’t read their own names, a little girl asked, “Why do we have to learn this old stuff anyway?” I responded that getting an education would mean a better life, to which she said, “Yeah, that’s what they told my mama!” That evening, I paid a visit to the girl’s home and found the family living in a shack with no doors, no windows, no running water, no electricity and no hope.

I went straight to Millard and said, “OK, sign me up! I’ll waste my life trying to teach kids who are forced to live like that.”

HW:
Walk us quickly through your 33 years here.
CR
:
Well, I served two years as a general volunteer here in Americus (in rural southwest Georgia, where Koinonia Farm is located and where Habitat started), doing everything from stuffing newsletters to fixing up the old houses where HFHI had its first offices. Then I went to Africa and served from May 1979 to May 1982 in Kinshasa, Zaire; from there I went to Gulu, Uganda, until September 1983. Then I served as Africa director, traveling back and forth between Americus and many countries in Africa for the next six years.

Following that, I spent a decade in donor development and a couple of years promoting a program to be intentional about eliminating substandard housing. And for the last five years or so, I have continued that, as a speaker helping Habitat affiliates raise awareness and resources for their work in their communities.

HW
:
Did you ever expect Habitat to grow into the organization it is today?
CR
:
It’s funny, but I don’t think that ever entered my mind. We used to speak of making “Habitat for Humanity” a household term, which showed our desire to make the work known, but our focus was on eliminating substandard housing one house, one family at a time, and our energies were spent making that happen through our affiliates around the world.

Yes, we set BIG goals for building each year, and we had a huge goal to eliminate substandard housing from the face of the earth, but we more or less built the road as we traveled. This was long before we learned that using business methodologies such as planning processes could give us an even greater impact.

HW
:
What kept you motivated and inspired for these three-plus decades?
CR
:
One very simple thing: that at the end of each day more families would be in decent housing. I certainly knew the number was growing, but when we began to speak in terms of 300,000 families being housed—and as that number continues to grow—I am amazed at what faithfulness to a simple vision can do.

HW
:
You have worked with a lot of Habitat homeowners through the years. Tell me about a few of the most memorable for you.
CR
:
Well certainly, Emanuel and Christine Oneka, the first family with whom we built in Uganda back in 1982, are high on the list. Mr. Oneka was chosen rather informally by a “selection committee” consisting of myself and Bishop Benoni Ogwal (Anglican bishop of Northern Uganda). “Oneka,” as he was known, was a rather rough peasant farmer, and the building of his home was one of the greatest and most joyful challenges of my life.

While the whole story is too long to relate here, it was a great teaching experience, as I had to teach the Onekas what Habitat was all about even as we built their house, and they had much to teach me about life in post-Idi Amin Uganda and in general. Most important for me was witnessing as New Testament stories I had heard and known from childhood literally sprang to life before my eyes and ears. The building of that house—and one smaller one we built simultaneously for a widow with two children—remains the most profound experience of my adult life.

HW
:
What would you tell someone considering applying for a Habitat house?
CR
:
I would tell them about homeowners I have known, and I would remind them of the beloved children’s story, “The Three Little Pigs.” No other story so well illustrates the challenges that homeowners face. The figure of the wolf might be a predatory lender seeking to steal away their home; the wolf might be their own fears; the wolf might be substance addictions or bad relationships or poor credit. But, in the end, that story is a story of empowerment.

I like to tell new Habitat homeowners that they should keep their hammers as a reminder that they beat poverty with that tool—and with determination, they can beat anything that threatens their right to a simple, decent home.

HW
:
What will you be doing when you retire?
CR
:
I will be moving to Guatemala, where Habitat Guatemala has built more than 30,000 homes. I will be involved with Habitat Guatemala as a volunteer for the rest of my life and with a ministry rescuing homeless children from the streets and providing them with the necessities of life, from housing, clothing and food to educational opportunities.

HW
:
What is your hope for Habitat as you approach retirement?
CR
:
That it will never be limited by one approach or one solution to the need for decent, affordable housing and that it will fully use its voice as one of the world’s premiere advocates for affordable housing. May that voice be an echo of our hammers ringing, and may it never cease until victory is total and everyone on earth has a simple, decent place in which to live.

HW
:
You have been a faithful donor to Habitat in addition to being a volunteer and employee. What is the most important fact a prospective donor to Habitat should know?
CR
:
That even in success the victory is never finished. Your gift is an investment that never stops earning. One of my favorite movie scenes is from Schindler’s List. The prisoners whom Schindler has saved present him with a ring made from scraps of gold. When he sees it, he weeps, saying, “With this gold I could have saved one more!” The prisoners respond, saying, “But you don’t understand; our scriptures say, ‘He who saves one life saves the world entire.’ There will be generations because of what you have done!”

And that’s the true bottom line; that’s what I would tell a prospective Habitat donor: There will be generations because of what you do.