When two sisters fled their home country of Yugoslavia, they were alone and scared. Their paths crossed with a stranger who handed them an envelope during a flight—the contents changed their lives forever.
Leaving everything you know and love is never easy, but sadly it is a reality for many refugees worldwide. People are displaced due to unfathomable events and try their best to pick up the pieces and move on.
After two sisters left their parents in war-struck Yugoslavia, they traveled to America for safety and security. By a twist of fate, they were seated next to a woman who listened to their story and decided to help.
Ayda Zugay's passport. | Source: youtube.com/CBS Boston
THEY WERE FORCED TO FLEE THEIR HOME
In 1999, Ayda Zugay, 12, and Vanja Contino, 17, were heartbroken as they bid farewell to their mom and dad. A brutal war forced them to flee their home country to save their lives.
They left with no money or possessions to their name, and the young girls had no idea how they would survive. Miraculously, they met a beacon of hope in the form of a woman named Tracy.
On a flight from Amsterdam to Minnesota, Ayda and her sister sat next to a kind-hearted woman who listened to their heartbreaking story. Instead of turning a blind eye, the stranger did something significant.
THE ENCOUNTER ON THE PLANE
Tracy was touched by the sisters' stories and impressed they dared to leave their home. She felt compelled to help them somehow, so she handed them an envelope that would mean more than she could ever have imagined.
Vanja chatted with the woman because Ayda could not speak much English. Despite the language barriers, Tracy could see and feel all she needed to know about them.
The unforgettable encounter on the plane was the burst of encouragement the sisters needed to forge ahead. Tracy also handed them an envelope—but she instructed them only to open it once they landed.
THE LIFE-CHANGING ENVELOPE
Ayda was stunned when she saw the contents of the envelope. Inside was $100 and dangling earrings—to someone else, it might not have seemed like much, but to the sisters, it was enough to keep them going for a season.
"When I opened up the envelope and saw the $100 I was taken aback because we actually didn't have anything with us. We had no money, not even a dollar."
A STRANGER'S ENCOURAGING MESSAGE
Written on the front side of the envelope was a message Ayda and Vanja would always cherish. Tracy offered the girls her best wishes, and the words provided them with some relief.
The note read:
"I am so sorry that the bombing of your country has caused your family any problems. I hope your stay in America will be a safe and happy one for you."
The stranger also welcomed the sisters to America and signed the note simply by stating, "Please use this to help you here. A friend from the plane —Tracy."
THE MONEY HELPED THEM SURVIVE
Tracy's money went a long way. It helped the sisters purchase powdered pancake mix and Coca-Cola, staples that kept them alive and well during their first summer in the United States.
More than the physical assistance of Tracy's gesture, Ayda highlighted how her kindness lifted their spirits and gave them hope. Immigrants faced immense scrutiny, and the woman's generosity was always a light that encouraged them.
"On the outside of the envelope was an amazing message of welcome. I treasure this because as time goes by, I've experienced that in most spaces, welcomes like this are very uncommon."
THEY SEARCHED FOR YEARS TO SAY THANK YOU
The sisters persevered and built extraordinary lives for themselves in the land of dreams and opportunities. Ayda worked with nonprofit organizations, helped establish a consulting agency, and served as a delegate to the Refugee Congress.
Vanja, an anesthesiologist, got married and started a family, and both women wanted to thank Tracy for providing the first stepping stone they needed to thrive.
Ayda spent many years searching for the woman who changed her life, and the journey was challenging. She stated: "The chances are [so] low, and at the same time, I don't feel discouraged. I want to stay relentless as long as I can."
The kind-hearted woman who helped two sisters in need. | Source: youtube.com/FOX 9 Minneapolis-St. Paul
THE TWEET THAT HELPED THEIR SEARCH
After potential leads fell through, it seemed as if the sisters would never reunite with the woman who helped them many years ago. But finally, after more than two decades, and with the help of the internet, they found their angel.
In 2022, someone saw the online search for Tracy. The post was shared on Twitter by a refugee advocacy organization, and a woman instantly recognized the handwriting—it belonged to her mother.
In a tweet, she said:
"You are looking for my mom Tracy Peck! Her handwriting is unmistakable. She remembers you girls from the flight!"
THEY FINALLY FOUND THE WOMAN
The 70-year-old Tracy Peck was running errands when friends and family tried to reach her and share the news. They remembered her speaking of Yugoslavian sisters she had met and knew the Tracy they were looking for was her.
The woman was stunned and delighted to make contact with Ayda and Vanja after so many years, and she shared:
"I pulled over to the side of the road and I pulled up the story and I saw the envelope with my handwriting and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, that's me they're looking for.' It was just crazy."
THEIR EMOTIONAL REUNION
The families connected via Zoom, and it was a tearful reunion for all of them. Ayda thanked the woman for reminding her to stay strong, and she added: "I'm finally able to move forward and thrive. And it just makes me so happy."
Tracy was happy to have helped the sisters and called her decision a no-brainer. She noted:
"Kindness is something — it’s a gift, a true gift from God. It was a no-brainer for me to do this for you girls because I was just so touched by your story."
Ayda was eager to express her gratitude verbally and not with hand signals like when she was a youngster. The women also had plans to meet in person and were excited about getting to know each other better.
KINDNESS HAS A RIPPLE EFFECT
Tracy explained she had returned from a trip to Paris after watching the French Open in 1999. She only had a $100 bill in her purse and knew she needed to give it to them. What she did not realize was the lasting impact her gesture would have.
A small act of kindness can have a ripple effect for decades. Ayda and Vanja's lives were forever touched by a stranger who chose to help them.
Tracy's actions inspire us to find more ways to be caring and considerate because we never know how much a simple gesture can mean to someone else.
Click here for another beautiful story about a woman who handed a stranger an envelope that made his day. Her kind gesture left many people with tears in their eyes.