Refugee Sisters Reconnect with Generous Stranger whose Kind Act Changed their Lives

Refugee Sisters Reconnect with Generous Stranger whose Kind Act Changed their Lives

September 20, 2022 by By Cathy Stack

Sisters Ayda and Vanja Zugay were teenagers in 1999 when they arrived in the US as refugees from the war-torn former Yugoslavia. On the trans-Atlantic flight to their new country, the girls nervously sat in their plane seats, frightened and worried about the unknown path ahead. A woman took the seat next to them and calmed their nerves by engaging them in conversation. She listened to the girl’s harrowing story of fleeing war. To help ease their journey, she wrote the girls an encouraging note, signed with her first name, and tucked a $100 bill inside. She handed the girls the envelope as they departed the plane. That kind gesture impacted the sisters’ lives more than she could ever have imagined.

As adults, Ayda and Vanja have prospered: Ayda graduated from Boston University and works in the non-profit field and Vanja became an anesthesiologist.

Over the years, they wondered about the woman from the plane who had generously welcomed them to their new country. Ayda said the stranger’s act had changed her life, and she decided to find the woman to thank her personally.

She began what would become a 10-year search to find her. She reached out to hotels, tour companies and airlines. She posted anonymously on social media, using the details of that plane-ride conversation as clues. She recalled that the woman had been flying home from a tennis match she had played in Paris. The story of Ayda’s unique search eventually went viral and soon caught the attention of news organizations.

The woman from the plane, Tracy, first heard of the girls’ search when a friend sent her a news article link, which included a photo of the original note. Tracy recognized her own handwriting and said she felted shocked to learn that the girls wanted to find her.

All the memories of their fateful meeting 23 years ago flooded back. Tracy vividly recalled meeting the young sisters and feeling compassion as she listened to their heartbreaking story. The sisters had reminded Tracy of her own daughters. Moved, she had reached into her pocketbook and pulled out an envelope, pen and paper to give them a little something to help them on their new journey.

Tracy teared up when she read the sisters’ description of how her generous gift had impacted their lives. Once the young sisters landed, they lived with their brother who had been attending college in Iowa. They used the $100 from Tracy to help scrape by that first summer.

“It warms my heart beyond anything I've ever experienced in my life,” Tracy said.

After a flurry of emails attempting to coordinate a reunion, a date was set. Tracy and the sisters finally reconnected through an emotional video call. Ayda could hardly believe she was now smiling back at the woman who had given her hope through a kind gesture all those years ago.

“Your generosity is still in me,” Vanja told Tracy on the call. “Because I've been paying it forward ever since.”

“Thank you for reminding me to be strong,” added Ayda.

Tracy said she was the one who was grateful. She now hopes their story will inspire others to extend a helping hand to one another in times of need.

The sisters and Tracy sat as strangers on a flight. One conversation resulted in a powerful connection and a sincere act of kindness that changed their lives forever.

The Foundation For A Better Life and PassitOn believe that Tracy Peck is a hero. Tracy’s act of kindness is a great example of the value of helping others. Her support offered the young girls the glimmer of hope they needed to persevere through unimaginably tough times. As they pushed through their first year in a new country as refugees, they began to succeed and thrive. Tracy’s action reminds us that you never know how one good deed might positively affect the lives of others. That deed might encourage the receiver to pass it on to others and cause a widespread, positive ripple effect.

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Your Comments
Lzm from USA SEPTEMBER 21, 2022
Beautiful story!!

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