There are not many people in the world who would leave everything behind to travel around the globe to help the people. That is exactly what Beat Anton Rüttimann (Toni) did. Toni is a Swiss self-taught bridge builder who is been working in Latin America and Southeast Asia for the last 20 years, he has devoted his life to building bridges in disadvantaged regions of the Earth, voluntarily, freely and independently.
It all started in 1987. Two weeks before finishing high school in Switzerland, Toni saw the destruction caused by an earthquake that hit Ecuador. He decided to go to South America on the night of his graduation, taking only his personal savings and 9000 Swiss Francs (usd6000 apox) donated by neighbours of his valley. Once in the disaster area, Toni met a Dutch engineer and with his technical help and assistance started helping people of the affected village next to the Aguarico River; they builded a 52-meter long suspension bridge.
After that, he continued working independently alongside communities in need in Ecuador and building bridges using recycled materials. In the Amazon region of Ecuador he puts together a system to build bridges with the communities, requiring almost no money. Toni asked for donations of used wire rope from the oil drilling rigs in the region and for scrap pipe from national oil companies. It was here where he received his name “Toni el Suizo” (Toni the Swiss), the name under which he is worldwide known today.
The strong willing to help local communities after the destroying of bridges through earthquakes, floods and other disasters lead Toni to other countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela but also to Southeast Asia, for example to Myanmar, Indonesia, and Cambodia. Toni has no home residence in those countries: he carries everything he needs in two bags. One for his personal belongings, the other for his laptop computer and a few tools for his trade.
In every country where Toni works, he builds up a small team of national welders to whom he teaches his craft, and who in turn can perform maintenance duties on the bridges builted. Companies contribute by donating their used material and local governments concede permits and help with transportation in recognition of the fact that the population makes the main effort. No one asks for anything in return and the bridge belongs to the population who built it. Toni also uses wire rope from the cable cars of his home country. In Switzerland, the cable cars are required to change these cables frequently, due to the tight safety regulations imposed by the government. This way Toni receives cables of several kilometres in length, large diameter, and good quality.
Until today, he has built over 730 bridges which serve over 2 million people. Those bridges are for use of pedestrians, pack animals, motorcycles, two-wheel-tractors – but not for heavy cars. In Ecuador he built up 297 bridges that serve over 360.000 people. One of his most famous bridges and the longest bridge he has ever built is the bridge in the Cuyabeno area over the Ecuadorian Aguarico River with a span of 264 meters.
Even the fact that he had Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a rare disease that paralyzes the muscles, Toni never stops working. With a pencil between his lips and the use of his two thumbs, he created a computer program for transforming the measurements sent by his colleagues into clear and complete instructions, so that they can continue building bridges via remote control.
Not all bridges built by Toni are still in service. In several places, especially in Ecuador and Cambodia, they have been replaced by vehicular bridges built by the government. In other places, the bridges have been destroyed by natural disasters. At present, there have been no accidents of any significance during the construction of these bridges. This is mainly attributable to the fact that local people are used to heavy labour and that strict safety rules and procedures have been followed during the construction.
As you can see, Toni Rüttimann is literally bringing two worlds together, one community at a time. He says about himself that his dream is not so much to build only bridges as such, but rather to help heal wounds, ease suffering, draw people together from all levels of society and to create something that is beautiful, something that is worth the hard work.
If you want to see some of the bridges he builted in the Ecuadorian rivers, and their amazing and beautiful landscapes, please contact us at [email protected]0