To find faith, look to the homeless. That’s what Daniel Nour, the 26-year-old doctor and NSW Young Australian of the Year, has found since he launched Street Side Medics.
Street Side Medics’ four vans are staffed by almost 150 volunteers and take free medical services to the homeless across NSW.
And while he has been recognised as 2022 NSW Young Australian of the Year, his own motivation for service is his relationship with God.
“My views are very much based around my faith, I’d say,” Nour, a Coptic Christian, told The Catholic Weekly.
Faith among the homeless
“In our society we feel a little bit shy or embarrassed to say I’m a strong Christian. Maybe someone will ridicule you for that.
“In the homeless population it’s very different—many of them are really faith-driven.
“They always talk about God: ‘I really need God’s help, I really need God’s strength’, or, ‘I’ve stopped drinking thanks to God—it’s all him.’”
Street Side Medics is a blessing for the many homeless people with conditions ranging from diabetes to heart disease that might otherwise go undiagnosed and untreated.
Some of Nour’s patients come seeking treatment for chronic conditions of the soul, as well as the body.
“I have seen a few people who have come in with a lot of guilt, or they’ve lost hope,” Nour said.
Compassion is a medicine
One of his patients, a lady in her 50s who had been rough sleeping for seven years after losing her family’s savings through gambling, came to his mobile clinic in Manly.
“She felt so guilty that she left her family. She was just heartbroken,” Nour said.
“I was driving her to hospital because she had a really bad wound that had probably infected her bones.
“The drive over there we were talking and I said, ‘You’ve got to forgive yourself.’ She was in tears.
Nour asked her if she had faith, and she replied she was a Roman Catholic who used to attend weekly Mass.
“Just reminding her about her faith—which she believes—alleviated her anxiety a lot and then started to give her the confidence to forgive herself.
“We had that conversation four, five, six times and read the Bible together a few times.”
Nour’s patient is now living in stable housing, working “pretty much full time” and has seen marked improvements in her mental and physical health.
“It was just reminding her of what she knew, rather than teaching her what she didn’t,” Nour said.
A long tradition
Nour a Coptic Orthodox Christian, is training to become a Sunday School Teacher, and like many Coptic boys was ordained as a deacon age eight.
The Coptic community is known for its strong showing in the medical profession and its commitment to service.
Nour is part of a long tradition stretching back to the “holy unmercenary” Saints Cyrus and John, who healed the sick free of charge and were martyred in Egypt during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
Washing the feet of others
“I must admit, I’m not the greatest Christian. But Street Side Medics gives me the ability to walk the walk,” Nour said.
“I rarely read my bible—I try!—I rarely pray and I was never a big faster. I go to church but I’m often distracted.
“So I’m not a good Christian but I’ve always grown up in the Church, my parents serve the community, my Mum is quite religious.
“It always struck me the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. If God washes the feet of his disciples the least we can do is take care of our homeless.”
It’s getting harder: challenges for Christians
Nour told The Catholic Weekly that, “It’s getting harder in society to say ‘I’m a Christian and I have Christian values’. And that’s sad to see.”
“I shouldn’t be afraid to say that and I have been, to be honest. Because you want to appeal to as many people as you can. But it is who I am.”
He attributes his increasing confidence in expressing his faith to his girlfriend, an “unapologetic” Maronite Catholic.
While he has no strong views on the Religious Discrimination Bill currently before Parliament, Nour does think it’s a shame that Christians don’t seem to receive the same support as minority religions in Australia.
His view is informed by his family’s experience of minority faith in Egypt, where Copts form perhaps 10 per cent of the population and experience discrimination, sometimes violent, from the Sunni Muslim majority.
In Australia, public figures from minority religions “receive an outpouring of support and love. But you come out and say I’m a Christian, you seem to get hated on,” Nour said.
“Dominic Perrottet, day one, got absolutely taken to the ring because he’s Catholic and because he has Christian values.”
Nour is currently a resident at Royal North Shore Hospital and intends to specialise as a cardiologist.
His clinical experience has prompted him to recognise the complexity surrounding issues like Euthanasia and Voluntary Assisted Dying.
“You really see people who are really, really suffering, and their quality of life is not there. Sometimes people are in such a bad way that it’s hard not to give them the opportunity to end such bad suffering,” Nour said
“I’d hope to never be in a position where I’d have to make that decision, to be honest. I think it’s not that clear cut.”