Toni Ruttiman is a tour de force. Although completely self-taught, he is orchestrating the construction of around 90 small suspension bridges throughout South America and Asia. His materials are in transit: pipes from Brazil and Italy, steel plates from Argentina, cable car ropes from the Alps and wire from Houston. Local teams are primed and ready to assemble them. Once built, these bridges will benefit around 250,000 people in Ecuador, Laos and Burma.
Toni's work is very different from the larger infrastructure improvements funded by the UN and World Bank. He builds the bridges for pedestrians to create vital connections for isolated communities. They provide river- and ravine-crossings to link villages with schools, markets and medical centres. Toni usually builds in the wake of a natural disaster or where there is a specific need. He has been affectionately dubbed "Toni el Suizo" (Swiss Toni) by the locals he encourages to volunteer. When he was building in Pailin, Cambodia, a last outpost of the Khmer Rouge, 30 of the men cementing the foundations were disabled or had a prosthetic limb. Toni also refuses all government grants, relying on individual Swiss donors for funds and on businesses such as Tenaris, an Argentine steel company, for free materials. He himself does no fundraising, has no home, car or website, and does not pay himself a salary.