By Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD, LMHC, FAND, CR Chairperson

A woman on a mission, Tessa aka Nabanda her Malawi given name, is striving to make the world a better place to live. Actually no longer residing in Malawi, but remains “deeply connected” to the people, her colleagues and the country forever, she has a new personally inspired mission in the US as Lead Nutritionist for Fit for Recover, a non-profit gym and community center founded by her brother to support people in long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Meet Tessa Acker

A career that started as a Nutrition Consultant for the St. Paul Public Schools Nutrition Program, and led to an internship & consulting position for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) & World Food Program in Lima, Peru; Tessa joined the Clinton Development Initiative in 2015 as a Community Nutrition Support Program Manager that took her half way around the world in Lilongwe, Malawi, a life changing job.

While she always strived to worked towards alleviating food insecurity & child malnutrition both as an undergraduate student at The Ohio State University and throughout her Master’s in Public Health program at The University of Minnesota, little did she know she would go on to receive the 2016 Hunger Environmental Nutrition (HEN) International Scholarship & travel 2 hours every other week to a rural Malawi district to teach everything from breastfeeding to edible gardening, to food sanitation & safety.

She recently returned stateside to support her brother in his efforts to help others maintain sobriety by Exercising Recovery through healthful eating and training.

Country Health Issues Impacted by Nutrition
Malawi suffers from a high prevalence of droughts, and thus, famine making it difficult to break out of the poverty cycle for many Malawians, and causing both acute and chronic malnutrition in children.
To combat this crisis the Clinton Development launched an Initiative in 2014, The Community Nutrition Program (CNP) aimed to help prevent child and maternal malnutrition through increasing access to diverse and nutrient food through homestead gardening and community education. Along with her Malawian colleague, Tessa helped to organize the community into “Care Groups” as a method to diffuse nutrition information and seeds throughout the community. The team worked closely with village chiefs, religious leaders, agriculture professionals, and school professionals.

Tessa taught the concept of “dietary diversity” to expand the foods and nutrients typically consumed by Malawians, whose daily intake is often ground corn patties (nsima), stewed green vegetable, and goat, chicken, or beef (if people could afford it). She helped them to grow mango, papaya, guava, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, leafy greens, beans and peas; and taught methods of preparation by helping members cook (or bake!) over a fire, and included preservation methods using in a homemade vegetable sun drier and making fruit jam.

Opportunities & Challenges in Malawi Dietetics

Tufts University is partnering with the Malawi government to start the 1st accredited dietetics program. A clinical dietitian from Tufts University is currently running the program.

In a nutshell, the Postgraduate Diploma Program in Clinical Dietetics launched at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, with support from Malawi College of Medicine. The 18 month program enrolls nutritionists holding a Bachelor of Science. It is endorsed by the Ministry of Health and accredited by the Medical Council of Malawi, meaning graduates take on the credential of Registered Dietitian.

The program upholds regional and international standards with rigorous didactic and practical training. It has a particular emphasis in clinical dietetics in order to address the human resource gap identified by local experts and government leaders. Support for the Diploma Program has been provided by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Nutrition, based at Tufts University.

Students finished the didactic phase of the program in March and have now completed two weeks of supervised practice. Three of the students are rotating through surgery & critical care nutrition with University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa. The other two students are at Blantyre Adventist Hospital under the supervision of a Malawian registered dietitian, Honest Chirwa. Students will complete 1200 hours of supervised practice over the next 8 months in order to demonstrate professional competency in food service management, research, community nutrition, and clinical nutrition (pediatric, adult medicine, surgery & critical care). Tessa volunteered to contribute community nutrition curriculum and will remain a mentor and resource to students as needed.

Malawi is also in the process of passing the 2016 Food and Nutrition Bill, an Act providing for the right to adequate food and nutrition; labeling and fortification of food; provision of nutrition in schools; the establishment of the National Food and Nutrition Council and the Food and Nutrition Fund.

Favorite Malawi Foods/Dishes and Holiday/Special Occasion Meals or Rituals?

Tessa grew very fond of mkwani (pumpkin leaves cooked in ground nut flour), chambo (local fish from Lake Malawi), ndiwo (chard-like leaves with onions and tomatoes), and chinangwa (patties made from cassava flour). Tessa learned to dance to the upbeat songs of the Malawians and was in awe of their ability to harmonize and evoke strong emotions within her, when she didn’t even know the language.

What inspired you to become involved with AODA?

Encouraged by the former Malawi CR Stacia Nordin, RD to apply for the country’s CR position, Tessa embraced the opportunity to connect with a group of international dietitians. You can also find Tessa actively involved with the Utah Dietetic Association as Social Media Chair.
On a personal note, despite the seemingly harsh conditions the country faces, Tessa says ”Malawians are some of the most generous and kind-hearted individuals she has met, owning true to their nickname, the warm heart of Africa.”

To learn more about Tessa’s current Salt Lake City position, mission and efforts for Fit to Recover, go to