I'm really enjoying the blog Good Intentions Are Not Enough. It's written by a former aid worker and covers the topics of fail that people fall into when disaster happens and they just want to help so much that do wildly inappropriate things. Like kidnap a bunch of kids and try to take them to a neighboring foreign country. Or send breastmilk instead of money for rations that would allow moms to make the food to feed their own kids or wet nurse the neighbor's. Or sending a bunch of OTC painkillers from Costco and your half used prescriptions, instead of money for morphine or useful pharmaceuticals. It's arrogant to assume that your desire to be helpful trumps actual need and people should just be grateful that you mean no harm and just want to help. Haiti was not a thriving nation before the earthquake; it needs even more help now, but appropriate help is more important than assuaging your guilt.
It brings to mind a kerfuffle that happened on Facebook recently about the young Christian preacher who trekked into North Korea to deliver his heart-felt letters to Kim Jong-Il, really sure that this would be the action that would turn the dictator's heart and bring about change in North Korea, as opposed to secret airlifts of supplies for its people to give them impetus for revolution, or running a Radio Free North Korea project, or really anything with a chance of success. Hell, staying home and fasting and praying had more of a chance of working on Kim Jong-Il than winding up in a North Korea prison. And there were two opposing camps, the people who thought that one person setting himself to be a martyr is a noble action no matter what the chance of success and another who thought really it's arrogant and a waste for your work and gesture to mean nothing because you're seized by the spirit and don't think things through. The situation in Haiti seems to be another example of that--when are you doing more bad than good? How do you feel about that? And is there really a completely altuistic action that doesn't gratify yourself in some way?