Our Team

Board of Directors

Eula Ramroop (Chair)
Lucas Smiraldo (Vice Chair)
Victor Rhett (Treasurer)

Amy Leonard (Secretary)

Nathalie Bajinya*

Bhagirath Bhatt* 

Mike Collier*

Jefferson Mok*

Melyssa Stone

Matthew Wurdeman

*Identifies as Refugee or Immigrant

The Choir

The Tacoma Refugee Choir is a non-auditioned choir of refugees, immigrants, and friends who seek belonging and are committed to creating a more equitable and welcoming community. In its first five years, the Tacoma Refugee Choir led by Erin Guinup has welcomed over 700 members from over 50 countries and performed for over 25,000 people at community, educational and government events, including WE Day, the National Race & Pedagogy Conference, and U.S. Citizenship ceremonies.  The choir received standing ovations at TEDxSeattle and has been featured on PBS and network television with stories and music videos of original songs created with members.  Additional programs include social-justice-oriented Teen Sings, a refugee-centered podcast, community singing events, and group music therapy classes. We may not change conditions for the 80+ million people displaced by wars, famine, and natural disasters, but we can welcome and love those who find themselves in our community.  


Our Staff 

Creating Harmonies Together:

Two-thirds staff members identify as former refugees or immigrants 

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Mariia Pozhar 

Assistant Director


Mariia joined the Tacoma Refugee Choir staff in May 2021.  Mariia Pozhar was born in the Soviet Union and grew up during the difficult transition of Ukraine becoming an independent country. She followed her passion to become a musician, graduated from the Odessa Musical College, and sang professionally for over 10 years. Mariia and her husband founded and ran the Babushka Grand chain of hostels to provide a safe and fun way for backpackers to learn about Odessa’s vibrant culture. Unfortunately, because of the Russian invasion of Crimea and the Donbas region, there was a general economic collapse, and the tourism industry was hit especially hard.  In 2015, Mariia and her husband moved to the United States. In the US, Mariia ran operations for a Lacrosse club in the SF Bay Area, worked as a Banker, but only found her home singing with the Tacoma Refugee Choir. In 2019, Mariia joined TRC’s Board of Directors as a Choir Member at Large and served on the Board for two years, until she joined TRC’s staff in April 2021.

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Erin Guinup

Executive & Artistic Director


Erin Guinup is the founding Executive and Artistic Director of the Tacoma Refugee Choir. A passionate advocate of community singing and the power of music to heal and unite communities, she has led community singing events and spoken at national conferences for Chorus America, National Association of Teachers of Singing, American Choral Director’s Association, and the International Congress of Voice Teachers in Stockholm, Sweden, and TEDxSeattle. and the world premiere of Orson Scott Card and Mark Mitchell’s He is There; singing with Israeli-Palestinian choir Common Ground Voices in Jerusalem and Europe; and vocal workshops with Fortune 100 companies including Amazon. She is a composer and author, contributing to the books So You Want to Sing Music by Women and My Body Was Left on the Street: Music Education and Displacement. Most recently, Erin was named one of five Women to Watch by South Sound Magazine.

Find our more about Erin
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Seema Akkar

Administrative Assistant


 A California native, Seema is the daughter of Malayali Indian immigrants and grew up speaking Malayalam, a South Indian language. She is fluent in Hindi, Spanish, and knows bits and pieces of many other languages. Seema has been performing her music at the Kerala Association of Los Angeles since she was 5 years old, singing songs in a variety of languages. She has several years of marching band and choir experience from school in Cerritos, CA, and currently plays the piano, clarinet, vina, tablas, and is vocally trained in both Carnatic and Western music. Her lifelong passion for music led her to pursue a music major at Tacoma Community College in hopes of becoming a music instructor. With years of administrative experience, a lifetime of experience in music, and her energetic personality, she strives to facilitate a happy, safe environment for refugees and non-refugees in the Tacoma Refugee Choir, build lasting friendships with choir members from around the world, and bring joy and warmth to others through music.

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Maurice Lekea

Fundraising Associate


Maurice Lekea, Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), arrived in the US in 2000. After 19 years of living in Washington, his Asylum case finally got approved in July 2019. While raising 5 children (3 sons and 2 daughters) as a single dad, Maurice went to school in North Seattle College and worked a full time job. He then continued his education at Edmond Community College. Despite speaking no english when he first arrived in America, Maurice eventually became a certified French - English Interpreter/Translator in 2008 . He worked for Rosetta Stone coaching French. He also provided translation services for hospitals, social services, courts, and immigration. Maurice has enjoyed his volunteer work with the Shoreline YMCA after school program “Hangtime”. In August 2019, Maurice joined the choir: “it was an outstanding experience to meet people from different backgrounds, ethnics, cultures etc...developing friendship.” He is enjoying learning new things and helping the choir grow. During his time working with the choir he hopes to help both refugees and non-refugees find important resources for integration, build friendships within the choir and find their voices through singing. 


Megumi Azekawa

Music Therapist and Accompanist


Megumi's musical journey started at five when she started to play the piano. Since then music has been her constant companion and helps her to facilitate connections with others regardless of our languages or cultural and geographic origins. Megumi is an immigrant herself, originally from Yokohama, Japan, and strives to bring compassion and healing through music wherever she goes. She currently works as a board-certified music therapist and holds her master of music (music therapy) from Colorado State University. She has over a decade of experience in a wide range of treatment settings including mental health, military-connected communities, neurorehabilitation, neurodivergent individuals, eldercare, and more. Prior to becoming a music therapist, she studied the saxophone at the University of Washington. She has been featured as a concerto competition winner by university and community orchestras. She was also the soprano saxophonist in the Asahi no Mori Saxophone Ensemble and performed in eastern Japan for twelve years. In 2021, she became the accompanist for the Choir.  As an experienced performer of a diverse repertoire, she plays classical, jazz, pop, and more. She has companied other musicians for competitions and recital performances in Japan, Canada, and along the West Coast.  Megumi is grateful for the Choir to welcome her into the community.

Our Partners and Sponsors

We are so grateful for our many community partners and sponsors