John Marshall over the years has used his video production skills to help sell cars and food. These days, he’s using those skills to sell hope.

The longtime Portland TV host is living at an orphanage in India, where videos he shot with dozens of smiling children have helped raise $30,000 for the orphans’ school. It’s a sum that orphanage officials say would have taken them years to raise. But with Marshall’s videos and a campaign on the crowd-funding website Indiegogo, the money was raised in less than a month.

“I figure I’ve made videos encouraging people to buy things like modular homes, so now I can take those skills and encourage people to help children,” Marshall, 48, said Thursday from India. “I think people in the West think of orphans as needing us. But they are helping me. It’s very healing for me to be here with them.”

Marshall decided a few months ago to try to volunteer his way across India. He left his job at Portland’s CW network station – WPXT-TV, Channel 51 – where he produced or hosted local shows such as “Kick Start,” “Explore Maine: The Home Edition” and “Buy Local.” He had been on Maine TV for a dozen years.

The youngest of Marshall’s two children had left for college last fall and he had “split amicably” from his wife. But Marshall was “not happy” and looking for more fulfillment. He had done a volunteering trip once before, in 2010 with his wife and children, and loved it. He’s written a book about that experience, “Wide Open World,” which Random House plans to publish next year.

So Marshall took his book advance and money from the sale of his Gorham home and left on his trip in February, not knowing how many places he might visit. He headed first for the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission orphanage in Banbasa, India.

He and his family had stayed there on their trip, and he knew the place had accommodations for volunteers.

The mission, located in a rural part of India near Nepal, takes care of about 100 orphaned or abandoned children. It also has a school that takes in children from the area. When Marshall got there, the school was in need of 100 new desks, costing a total of about $4,000.

Marshall suggested to mission officials that he could make a video and put it on Indiegogo to raise the money. He shot a video of smiling, laughing children, explaining how happy they were, and what a “big family” they are. And they told viewers that they needed desks for incoming students.

Orphanage staff and children helped Marshall build a plywood track to hold a skateboard and his camera, for professional-style tracking shots. Marshall’s crew – Rena, 7, and Seeya, 8 – helped him set up 70 shots in two days.

“With a professional crew it would have taken much longer, but these girls were so focused,” said Marshall.

The online campaign (Indianorphanage.com/desks) for Good Shepherd began March 14 and the goal of $4,000 was met in two days. In a few weeks, some $12,000 had been raised, and Marshall made and posted more videos of the kids. One, a thank you video, showed the children dancing to the pop tune “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, from the film “Despicable Me II.”

Donations came from all over the world, including many from Maine.

“I guess what I have been the most amazed by is the power of one,” said Tory Ryden, a former Portland TV anchor and current marketing director at Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick. “The amazing impact that one person can have on, literally, an entire village.”

Ryden donated $240 to the Good Shepherd campaign. “I get goose bumps thinking about John being exactly where he wants and needs to be,” she said.

Last week, Indiegogo posted the mission’s campaign page on the front of its email newsletter, and contributions poured in. The total as of Friday was more than $30,000.

The money will be used for desks, shelves, supplies, a second floor on the school, and a new school bus.

“John has brought so much to our family here at the mission,” Clifton Shipway, the mission’s deputy director, wrote in an email. “Not only did he create the amazing videos that have inspired so many people to support us, he also loves our kids with so much fun and genuine affection, they never want him to leave.”

Marshall plans to stay in India for a few more months, and has thoughts of helping other orphanages. But for now, he’ll stay at Good Shepherd, teaching guitar and swimming, and making videos.

“People say it’s better to give than to receive, but I’m not sure that’s true,” said Marshall. “Because I am getting so much from these kids. It’s almost like I’m selfishly giving, because it makes me feel so good.”

 

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com