Mapu Maia Clinic • Photo by Indunil Usgoda Arachchi

When the doors open to enter the brand new Mapu Maia Clinic in Kent, Washington, visitors enter into an open central space that surrounds them in bright, inviting rainbow colors.

The walls are adorned with flags of the 2SLGBTQIA+ and trans community. Pacific Islander artifacts and handicrafts add a sense of culture, heritage, and pride to the surroundings. Clean exam rooms are indigenized with a Pacific Islander name, along with an explanation of the word below. This health center is immersed with the intention that each patient sees themselves, their whole selves, reflected back at them.

Mapu Maia Clinic provides free healthcare, both primary and gender-affirming care in one place. This convenience is what sets the facility apart from other organizations in Washington that offer either sexual health, gender-affirming, or primary care services. By deciding to build a free clinic, the United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance (UTOPIA) is now able to serve a larger part of their community: those who are undocumented, houseless, and/or low-income.

“I think lived experience is a very huge part in building a service that is intentional in caring for the community,” said Tepatasi Vaina, UTOPIA’s Health Clinic Director.

It is this shared lived experience between UTOPIA’s staff and patients that was most essential in informing decision making during the clinic’s formation.

Tepatasi Vaina, Health Clinic Director at the Mapu Maia Clinic • Photo by Indunil Usgoda Arachchi
Skin products for the clients • Photo by Indunil Usgoda Arachchi

The name “Mapu Maia” is a Samoan phrase one would say to someone who has had a long, hard journey that means “rest here” or “may you find relief in this house.” The name reflects UTOPIA’s journey as an organization, the lived experiences of its community, and the compassion that the clinic hopes to extend to those who walk through its doors.

Founded in 2009, UTOPIA has since worked to create a safe, welcoming space for the local queer and trans Pacific Islander community. Their approach is to address both policy changes and direct care, the systemic and the personal, by creating a place that is vibrant and supportive of the community it serves. In addition to the new free clinic, their services include offering queer youth afterschool programs, cultural programs that teach language, dance, songs, and stories, food sovereignty, and policy change programs aimed at health and harm reduction.

The organization had previously focused on connecting its community to healthcare resources through partnerships with local organizations like Gay City, HealthPoint, and Swedish, as well as hosting events, inviting its community to engage with healthcare services. Still, they noticed that people didn’t always feel comfortable seeking resources outside their own spaces.

“Now we are able to do most of that without having to ask another clinic to step in,” said Vaina.

Tweetie Fatuesi, Program Manager of the Mapu Maia Clinic • Photo by Indunil Usgoda Arachchi
The Mapu Maia Clinic waiting room • Photo by Indunil Usgoda Arachchi

Geographically, the clinic finds itself in good company, nestled among similar organizations whose aim is caring for marginalized communities in South King County like ACRS (Asian Counseling Service), Indigenous non-profit Unkitawa, and UTOPIA’s headquarters.

Mapu Maia Clinic owes its existence largely to Dr. Malik Fuimaono and Dr. Callie Nāholowaʻa, both of whom volunteer their time to see patients. Fuimaono is Pacific Islander and an internal medicine doctor at Skagit Valley Hospital. He is now the clinic’s medical director, using his day off to make the long trip down to the clinic to visit with patients at Mapu Maia once a week.

Similarly, Nāholowaʻa, who is Native Hawaiian, also sees patients and is the main person responsible for supporting and building out Mapu Maia’s clinical operations. As someone who already had experience working for and establishing free clinics, Nāholowaʻa’s expertise and experience was tremendously helpful, allowing the clinic to open in just one year.

Given that UTOPIA had no real template to follow when creating their own free clinic, there have been many personal barriers for UTOPIA’s staff to address among themselves along the way. For Vaina, as Mapu Maia’s Health Clinic Director, there was imposter syndrome present since she had never gone to school to learn how to construct or run a clinic like this.

“We just knew what we wanted to build and that we knew we needed it,” said Vaina. “But we have a really, really amazing team and community that keeps supporting us and and we keep encouraging each other. We’re building it from a real genuine place that is from our own lived experiences.”

A clinic room at Mapu Maya Clinic • Photo by Indunil Usgoda Arachchi
Tepatasi Vaina explains the equipment and the facilities in the clinic rooms • Photo by Indunil Usgoda Arachchi

Since Mapu Maia Clinic is entirely operated by volunteers, the staff must be intentional about self care themselves since this unique work is interwoven into their lives outside of the clinic, too. Not only do staff have time set aside for sick days, they also have regular holidays off and mental health days available separately for times when employees just need a break.

“At the end of the day, we come from the very communities that we serve. It’s impossible for us to separate our personal lives from this work,” said Vaina.

UTOPIA staff consistently finds ways to celebrate themselves and enjoy fun activities together. Dancing, in particular, is one of the staff’s most popular ways to unwind.

While Mapu Maia is only currently open one day a week based on the schedules of its volunteer staff, the clinic hopes to expand its hours, capacity, and services soon. Along with making a children’s section in the main room, UTOPIA plans to add behavioral health services, including a full-time mental health counselor, to its offerings by the end of the year. They are also open to accepting more doctors or nurses, as well as any other volunteers interested in helping UTOPIA engage with the community throughout the organization’s other service programs. 

Mapu Maia provides a wide range of services for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community • Photo by Indunil Usgoda Arachchi

This story was produced in partnership with our media sponsor Communities of Opportunity, a growing movement of partners who believe every community can be a healthy, thriving community.

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