Female doctor observing a male patient in a third world country

Health feature | Caring for humanity in a self-focussed world

Australians are spending more time than ever on devices, and less time engaging face-to-face with others. This, coupled with lengthy periods of isolation through the COVID 19 pandemic and a technology surge in self-distanced customer service where we chat online with robots or check out ourselves at the grocery store, has driven human interaction apart.  What does this mean for people, not just in our community but around the world who rely on the generosity and commitment of others for humanitarian aid? Doctor Sheanna Maine has long been an advocate for contributing service in areas of crisis or where a lack of infrastructure, skill and healthcare is at hand. Sheanna leans in to lend her hands when she can, and remarks that the experience of giving to others is the most rewarding part of her day job. She agrees it is getting harder to find willing volunteers for this crucial work. 
“The idea of looking after someone else and doing something because it’s the right thing to do has gone out the window and people are not in tune with their empathy any more. I don’t know why,” Sheanna said.
One of the biggest contributing factors in this age of lacking worldly awareness is social media. The relationships we have with one another on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are rarely recognised as superficial entertainment, but are moreso held up materialistically as ideals and values.  
“Social media is putting something out there for the world to see, and the response that you get is not based on empathy, it’s based on what other people want the world to perceive of themselves. That might be true, it might be untrue. It might be a persona that they want to project. But it just doesn’t seem genuine anymore. And that severely impacts on people’s ability to empathise with another individual at that one-to-one level. 
“It’s just made for a very impersonal working environment. I think that we’re now not driven by what is right. You’re driven by this dichotomy of what is right for one is not right for society or for the general population but we’re so demand driven and our resources are so limited. It makes you have to think on a daily basis, why am I doing this? You’re doing it because you want to help people,” she said. 
Days like today, World Humanitarian Day are an important reminder there is a world beyond ourselves and our phone screens, and that there are so many people crying out in desperate need of help. 
“[Providing aid] makes you resourceful and resilient as a medical practitioner because you’re dealing with circumstances where you don’t have all the equipment that you’re used to having. It makes you very grateful for the system that we do have. Ultimately, we have some of the best medical care in the world and we can’t forget that because you go to these places and the people have one visit from, not even a doctor but someone who knows a bit about medicine. And so, the cancers, the congenital syndromes, no one treats it.  
“We need to see [humanitarian aid] as a worthwhile experience. Materialism does not lead to happiness. You can go to communities who have nothing and the people can be genuinely happier than anything we see in our society,” Sheanna said. 
Recognised internationally every year on 19 August, this year’s WHD theme aims to demonstrate how we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people we serve, no matter who, no matter where and #NoMatterWhat. 
An initiative of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), WHD brings together partners from across the humanitarian system to advocate for the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers. 
Sheanna says you don’t need to be a doctor or medical practitioner to make a difference. Nor do you have to travel to remote parts of the world to offer help and support. We can become champions of change from the palms of our hands on the same devices we post our latest selfies.  
“If you can’t do it yourself, go out there and support the charities and organisations who do the job. It doesn’t have to be something which takes up much of your resource at all. It could be as much as a cup of coffee.” 
Not sure where to start? The Australian Government has List of Australian accredited non-government organisations (NGOs). Visit the website. Or perhaps you could lend some support to organisations collecting in response to the Maui bushfires. Visit the Hawaiin American Red Cross website. Before you donate, be sure to check the organisation is credited.
If you liked this story, leave us a comment below and subscribe to our quarterly newsletter The Maine Frame. You can also follow us on Facebook.