The earthquake in Haiti has inspired many spontaneous and generous acts of giving. Charity has been critical to every faith and spiritual practice. Alternatively called charity in Christian terms; tzedakah, the Jewish concept of giving to worthy causes or people in need; sadaqah, the Arabic concept of alms-giving; one of the components of wisdom-compassion in Vajrayana Buddhism; and dana, charity, one of three types of action in karma yoga in Vedanta/Hindusim (the other two being yajna, sacrifice, and tapas, austerity).
Thus, charity is essential for spiritual growth, often to combat guilt by reminding us of our interconnectedness as much as to assist another. It is not to show that we have and another does not, but rather we are made humble to our position, we show gratitude and acknowledge the forces which put us in a position of having, and that another has as much right to have as we do.
But karma yoga is more than just giving or performing an action. It is an action without attachment to its result. This is where charity hiccups. Volunteers who go to such tragic zones to help often return having done much good but feeling completely useless. Some people who donate money are frustrated at how slow progress is and turn bitter.
Karma yoga is more than just giving to another, it is a giving up within. Samnyasa, a relinquishment of personal motive or desire, and tyaga, giving up of the desire for the fruit of the action are the two sides of the karma yoga coin. In one, you must give up the ego driving you to give, e.g., I am so [wonderful, rich, virtuous] therefore let me give to these others.
Tyaga is to let go of the results you expect. If you are a volunteer, know that there are many complex and overwhelming forces at work and you have served as per your dharma. Then, let go.
Of course, this is a lifetime of work to master. You don’t have to be a master yogi or even a practicing one to give. No matter the motivation, when contemplating giving, take care of yourself. It sounds selfish to take care of one’s self when so many are suffering, but to yourself do no harm is the first rule in ahimsa. Give as per your own capability and desire . Admittance without judgment is where people get stuck. Know the limits of your generosity otherwise it breeds resentment or impoverishes you in time and/or money and takes away from resources towards any one goal (the only portion of the virtue of selfishness I agree with).
Charity Navigator has a comprehensive list of charities giving to Haiti here with good tips on who to give, how to do your research and how to follow up. CNN also has a great list on Helping in Haiti here.
Some of the ones with time-tested track records are:
American Red Cross – The ARC is sending tarps, hygiene items and cooking sets for approximately 5,000 families and is helping the injured who may need blood.
CARE – Deploying emergency team members to Port-au-Prince and will be distributing food.
Doctors Without Borders – Currently treating people on the ground and will be operating an inflatable hospital.
Partners in Health – Has been working in Haiti for 20 years. They are organizing medical personnel volunteers and gathering supplies.
Save the Children – Has worked in Haiti for 25 years with 100 staff on the ground. Will be providing food, water, shelter and child-friendly spaces.