5 Questions with Lauren Simao

Our monthly check-in with staff from around the world. Learn more about the people who work at CHAI.

Picture of Lauren Simao, CHAI associate, Pediatric HIV

Please tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to CHAI.

Before joining CHAI in 2018, I was simultaneously serving in AmeriCorps and attending graduate school. Within AmeriCorps, I served at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Community Health Improvement, providing STEM education and college readiness programming to low-income youth of color. In grad school I studied development and global health, and conducted qualitative research in Kibera, Kenya for my thesis on the connection between water access, sanitation, health, and gender equity. While studying abroad in South Africa during my undergrad, I volunteered at two organizations serving children and adolescents who had been orphaned by AIDS, many of whom were living with HIV. When I came upon CHAI, specifically the HIV Access Program, it felt like a perfect fit.

1. What is the best thing about your job? 

Working with community members via the Pediatric and Adolescent HIV Community Advisory Boards (CABs) has been the best part of my work at CHAI. It is incredibly grounding to work directly with the people we aim to serve. Having the opportunity to help elevate the voices of people living with HIV in our program countries is the most important and impactful thing I can do in my role. It is essential to ensure that community voices guide interventions along the entire pediatric testing, treatment, and retention cascade, so it is extremely rewarding to be a part of making sure that happens.

2. What is the most challenging part of your job? 

Honestly, balancing CHAI’s commitment to urgency and saving lives while also avoiding burnout is the most challenging part of the job. I love working alongside so many passionate, determined people, but we tend to forget that we must also take care of ourselves, if we are to sustain our ability to do the work.

3. What is your favorite quote and why?

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson, Aboriginal elder, activist and educator from Queensland, Australia.

Efforts for equity must be rooted in the understanding that we are working toward our collective liberation. It is not about helping the less fortunate – it is about recognizing every person’s humanity and right to a just and equitable world. Those of us with any degree of privilege must use it to correct the unjust, oppressive systems that have been constructed to marginalize the many, for the benefit of the few. This message drives my own core values and is why I do the work I do.

4. What is the most adventurous thing you have ever done? 

Probably either bungee jumping in South Africa at Bloukrans Bridge during my undergrad studies there, or gorilla trekking in Rwanda after a CHAI meeting. Trekking through Volcanoes National Park in search of some of the last remaining wild gorillas in the world was also a great way to bond with one of my CHAI colleagues. 🙂

5. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

My vavo’s (grandmother’s) Portuguese kale soup. It is my ultimate comfort food!

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