Refugee sisters fleeing war reunite with kind stranger 23 years later

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


Over two decades ago, a Minneapolis mother’s kind gesture to two young strangers impacted their lives more than she ever could have imagined.

According to a CNN report, 23-three years ago, Tracy Peck, now 70, found herself sitting beside two sisters fleeing war-torn Yugoslavia on a trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis. At the time, Peck sensed that the girls were frightened and uncertain. Thinking of her own daughters, the suburban mom found herself filled with compassion for the young refugees. As the flight prepared to land, Peck impulsively pulled an envelope out of her purse on which she scribbled a note, saying that she was sorry for what they’d been through and that she hoped their stay in America would be “safe and happy.” She signed the note with “a friend on the plane, Tracy” with a little heart and placed it in the envelope, along with a $100 bill and a pair of earrings inside, stuffing it into one of the girls’ hands before they exited the plane. 

Recently Peck, a massage therapist, was shocked to learn that one of the sisters had been searching for her for nearly a decade. She expressed disbelief when her friends called to tell her the story had aired on CNN. 

Ayda Zugay began looking for the woman she only knew as “Tracy” from that long-ago flight with an anonymous post to Reddit eight years ago asking for help in the search. Recently, refugee advocacy organizations shared a video about her quest which was aired on CNN.

Following a series of efforts by strangers on social media, Peck’s friends, and others caught up in the story, the trio was finally able to reconnect in an emotional Zoom call.

“Hello beautiful ladies!” Peck cried joyfully when the faces of Zugay and her sister, Vanja appeared on her computer screen.

“It’s been more than 20 years,” Zugay said, holding up the envelope she’d kept with her all those years.

Peck told the sisters what prompted her to make the impulsive gesture that had so moved them.

“It just touched my heart so much that I just felt compelled that I had to help you in some way,” she said.

“Your generosity is still in me, because I’ve been paying it forward ever since,” Vanja said from her home in Connecticut.

Zugay, who lives in Boston, told Peck the things she’d kept in her heart for so many years, expressing how grateful she had been to Tracy and why the gift meant so much to them. She said she and her sister used the cash to sustain themselves with pancake batter and Coca-Cola for an entire summer. 

Zugay admitted that she was nervous about the Zoom call and seeing Peck after so many years.

“You know those huge doors that they have in old places across the world? It felt like that big, heavy door just got shut. And I’m finally able to move forward and thrive. … And it just makes me so happy,” she said. “Thank you for reminding me to be strong.”

Peck said she was the one who was grateful. Reflecting on the call, she said she hopes others will be inspired to show kindness to others.

“I just want to encourage everybody in the world to just be kind. What does it hurt? Except it helps everyone. Smile, make eye contact, help anyone that’s in trouble or in danger. And I just don’t know why anyone wouldn’t do that,” she said. 

The three have since shared another Zoom reunion, during which Vanja introduced Peck to her daughters. One of Peck’s daughters and two of her grandchildren also joined the call.  

Plans are underway for an in-person reunion in the future.