Life
Former refugees finally meets woman who changed her life with $100 gift
They finally reunited after 23 years.
Michael Dabu
06.16.22

Sisters Ayda Zugay and Vanja Contino freed themselves from war when they flee from their country Yugoslavia which by that time was under siege.

They boarded a plane going to the USA and during their flight, they sat beside a kindhearted woman. Little did they know, that stranger was about to change both their lives.

Flashback.

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Back in 1999, their country was not a safe place to live in. As Ayda recalled it, bombs were falling all around them as they were leaving. It was definitely not a perfect picture for young girls like her who by that time was just 12 years old.

Ayda and Vanja sat beside a woman whom they shared their story with. When the three were about to part ways, the kind passenger gave them an envelope but asked them to open it only if they had already unboarded the plane.

When it was then the right time to open it, the sisters were shocked by what they saw.

Inside the envelope were dangle earrings and $100!

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Apart from those, the woman also left them with a sweet message, and there, she introduced herself as Tracy.

As it turns out, the refugee sisters flew to the US without even a dollar in their pockets. Tracy’s generous and kind gesture was indeed a blessing that they didn’t expect to receive at that moment when they literally had nothing.

Ayda and Vanja stayed with their brother who by that time was a college student in Iowa. They managed to survive with the help of that $100 from Tracy who unhesitatingly helped them right when they needed it most.

Fast forward.

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Both the then young refugees went on with their lives. Ayda graduated from Boston University and is now working in a non-profit field in the same city. On the other hand, Vanja is happily married with two kids and is now an anesthesiologist.

For the last decade, Ayda tried looking for the woman and used all means that could possibly lead her to where she is. She recalled the kind woman carrying a tennis racket and also talked about playing in Paris.

Ayda also shared the note left by Tracy on the envelope and finally, all her hard work started to pay off.

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Her search went viral and even huge news channels like CNN featured their story. Soon, someone named Ashley messaged her on social media and claimed that the handwriting was her mom’s, which she named Tracy Peck.

Even Tracy’s tennis coach, Susan Allen, reached out to them and told them the same. Personally knowing Tracy and learning what she did to the sisters, it’s no surprise to them.

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“Knowing Tracy, that is exactly what Tracy would do,” Susan told CNN. Susan then reached out to her fellow coach named Deanne Sand Johnson and asked her to look at their records that month and year.

The search is on.

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Things became much clearer when their search confirmed that in May 1999, their company, Love / To Travel sent a group of 18 women, including Tracy, to Paris that month to watch the French Open.

Luckily, Deanne was able to keep a document of their trip, it’s a receipt from their travel agency that included the group’s itinerary. It’s stated there that the second leg of the group’s trip was a flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis on May 31, 1999.

It was the same route and date that Ayda and Vanja recalled when they met Tracy on the plane. Each piece of the puzzle finally started to be laid in its proper place.

The group soon decided to have a Zoom call. There, Ayda and Vanja told their story that dated back over two decades ago. Tracy told the sisters that the picture of that beautiful moment was still fresh to her.

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Vanja introduced Tracy to her lovely daughters during the Zoom call, while Tracy introduced her daughters and two of her adorable grandchildren. They all agreed to meet in person someday and that includes a Memorial Day weekend together, which marks the anniversary of the sisters’ arrival in the United States.

It’s amazing that after over two decades, Tracy’s act of kindness feels like it just happened yesterday.

Watch the video below to know more about this beautiful story.

Please SHARE this with your friends and family.

By Michael Dabu
hi@sbly.com
Michael Dabu is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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