Toni Ruttimann – Love In Action

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Toni Ruttimann spoke at Monash University in July 2010 during my final year. It took him about 10 hours to fly to Melbourne… after leaving from the jungle of Burma and travelling for weeks on pre-war busses and trains.

Toni came to Melbourne to give a few talks about his life’s work. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life.


Toni Ruttimann on bridge  

Toni Ruttimann Bridge at San Jose del Aguarico, Sucumbios, Ecuador

Toni Ruttimann Bridge at San Jose del Aguarico, Sucumbios, Ecuador

Over more than two decades, he developed a system to build simple, safe and dependable steel suspension pedestrian bridges that have spanned up to 260m. If that wasn’t incredible enough, they can be put up in about a week using donated scrap material and the love and effort of the local community.



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He educates the community to mix quality concrete for the footings and to re-paint and maintain perishable components of the bridge. The local villagers must work hard to make it all happen and it is primarily reliant upon them to ensure that their bridge stands the test of time.




On the night of the talk, I arrived at the lecture theatre, said hello to a few people and sat down, ready. There was an interesting atmosphere in the room. Two worlds were about to collide.

Toni’s journey began in 1987 when he was 19. After finishing high school in his home town in Switzerland, he saw horrific news coverage of an earthquake in Ecuador. He left immediately to help out. Because so many bridges has collapsed and washed away, Toni and a Dutch engineer set about re-building them.

“In the disaster area at the foot of the Andes Mountains, it took me just one night sitting beside a river to understand the importance of a bridge. What I felt in those long hours is what too many people must endure every day, cut off behind raging rivers, unable to get to a doctor, to walk to the next village, in anguish and helpless. 

The answer is a bridge, a simple bridge.”


After six months and helping to re-build 30 bridges, Toni returned home to Switzerland and began studying an engineering degree, only to quit six weeks later.

“I asked myself, after five years of studying, going on vacation, having three meals a day, will I be strong enough to go back to the jungle and live as I did for the first six months? I doubted I’d be strong enough, so I made a conscious decision to give my life to bridges,”

In order to build reliable bridges on a shoe-string budget, Toni sources old ski-lift wires and excess metal piping from oil rigs. The third major structural material (concrete) is locally sourced and then mixed and poured on-site.

“The problem is not on the technical side, but the human side. Will the guy be able to talk to the peasants in the right way – by being modest, being part of the community, and not having a salary? The technical side is just a few pipes and cables. But ‘how do I live’ is much more difficult.”


There used to be a poster in the corridor of the Civil Engineering Building at Monash University with pictures of a bridge during construction and a few of Toni’s diary entries. I think it was about the one that joined two separate and previously warring countries (El Salvador and Honduras).

The bridge took two years to build! I remember reading that they had waited for two or three weeks for an army helicopter to transport steel tubing to the top of a hill to make the bridge. One morning the chopper arrived, but left before landing, apparently re-called to perform other duties. Unable to wait any longer, Toni and his team carried the tubing by hand. It took two weeks, but it was better than waiting around for another chopper that may or may not arrive.

Nowadays Toni and his team can build a bridge within a week and 50 per year!


That story alone was extremely helpful for me to keep in mind whilst I was setting up Choose To Change – knowing that what has taken me more than a year to build can impact peoples lives in less than a week.

So please remember this point if you are feeling stuck whilst creating something new that has never been done before. If it succeeds, it could soon be 100 times easier.


Adam Oldmeadow on a bridge in Cambodia

This is me in 2011 visiting a Toni Ruttimann ‘rescue bridge’ in Cambodia. If you’re travelling to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia, Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador or Mexico, keep your eyes peeled and talk to the locals.


Indonesia Expat

Source: Indonesia Expat 2013 

So far, Toni and his team have built more than 730 bridges that have served over 2 million people.

He has managed to change the world without a salary, office or even a particular house to live in. He travels with a bag in each arm and has learned to sleep anywhere and eat everything.



There is more information about Toni’s work on the following webpages

A slideshow of photos

Toni el Suizo, a lifetime dedicated to building bridges (SDC, Switzerland – 29.05.2007) .ashx 

The Nation (Thailand): ACROSS THE RIVER: Toni el Suizo started out building bridges at 19 to help disaster-stricken countries (14.08.2005)

Toni The Swiss

PM World Journal (August 2016)


March 2014: A Bridge Journey through Myanmar

August 2014: Lift this Veil from his Eyes


Toni Getting Married (Multilingual Subtitled Version – Click ‘CC’ to choose language)

Toni Ruttimann Wedding Thailand

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