Dr Lester Mascarenhas
General Practitoner Refugee Health
MBChB FRACGP MPH
Utopia was founded by a team of seven people headed by Dr Lester Mascarenhas.
Like many other socially benevolent ventures, the conversations began in Lester's dining room over good food (and wine in moderate quantities ....!!) and rigorous debate. In the 4 years preceding our opening, we spent innumerable hours in the Western suburbs of Melbourne talking to refugees. We wished for a truly in-depth engagement and so we organised and participated in a series of cultural and musical programs that saw us work side-by-side with refugees from the Karen and Karenni communities as equals. What better way to build trust and get communities to open up than by an immersive experience.
The messages we heard over this period of engagement were that government health services were failing the refugee population of the far west of Melbourne. Refugee communities wanted a service that provided longer appointments, with interpreters, with staff who came from refugee communities and with clinicians experienced in the health conditions that affected them.
It was clear that we needed to build Utopia..... but how? State government were not interested in supporting us. So began the wild and enjoyable ride to network and build support. Our premises were built by a builder who happened to be the son-in-law of a refugee rights activist; our medical equipment was sourced through crowd-funding; the clinic furniture was sourced through a fund-raising event at the Sun cinema in Yarraville and members of the refugee communities and like-minded clinicians from other organisations pitched in to give us that support which was so crucial in those early days. We have truly built Utopia.
Lester would like to acknowledge the team who are involved with the Utopia project and without whom this venture would not be possible.