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Two refugee sisters finally reunite with a stranger who helped them when they were fleeing former Yugoslavia after 23 years.

There are many reasons to be kind to others.

Aside from never knowing what a person is going through, practicing kindness and generosity just makes the world a better place.

You also never know how much a simple gesture may mean to another person… to the point where that person may still be holding onto the miracle of your act more than two decades later.

How a Chance Encounter Changed Two Sisters’ Lives Forever

plane flying in a clear blue sky
Photo by John McArthur on Unsplash

Two decades — 23 years to be exact — is how long Ayda Zugay held onto the physical reminder of a time someone showed her and her sister, Vanja Contino, unexpected kindness.

Back when Zugay was nearly 12 years old, she and her older sister were refugees, fleeing the former Yugoslavia. On their flight to the United States a mysterious woman handed them an envelope and made them promise not to open it until they deplaned. “I hope your stay in America will be a safe and happy one for you,” the note read.

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Once they opened the envelope, they were shocked to discover $100 and a pair of dangly earrings. There was also a note from the woman, whose name was Tracy Peck. “I am so sorry that the bombing of your country has caused your family any problems,” the note read, according to a story on CNN. “I hope your stay in America will be a safe and happy one for you — Welcome to America — please use this to help you here. A friend from the plane – Tracy.”

The sisters used that money to scrape by that summer, eating pancake mix and Coca Cola. They held onto the note as a reminder, and never let go. Then, eight years ago, Zugay decided to try and track down Tracy so they could tell her how much the gesture meant to them.

Why Refugee Was Determined to Find a Stranger She Met Years Ago

$100 bill
Photo by Live Richer on Unsplash

For years, Zugay tried every outlet possible to find the mysterious woman. She went on Reddit, spoke with reporters, reached out to hotels, and even tried to speak with airlines and tour operators.

Others tried to help as well. According to the CNN article, several refugee advocacy organizations shared a video of Zugay explaining her story to their social media accounts in hopes of spreading the word.

“I want to be able to find Tracy to thank her for her generosity, for her kindness, for her empathy, and for welcoming my sister and I,” Zugay said in the video. “I was wondering if you could help me find her. Have you ever heard a family member or a friend or anyone share a story that’s similar to this?”

Eventually, those involved were able to successfully narrow it down to a woman named Tracy Peck. Finally, in 2022, on a random Saturday while the now 70-year-old was running errands, her phone began lighting up.

Why a Stranger on a Plane Decided to Give Two Refugees $100

2 girls in a beanie standing in the snow
Photo by Genessa Panainte on Unsplash

In a follow-up story on CNN, Peck recalled seeing the sisters on that flight and how they reminded her of her own daughters. She says they appeared frightened and young to her, and she wanted to help in some small way. She had no idea that 23 years later, she would come across the sisters again, or that one of them had been looking for her for nearly a decade.

“It warms my heart beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she said, noting she’s always tried to teach her children to be kind and that you never know how your actions could affect others.

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Less than a day later, the three women were on a Zoom call, meeting each other again for the first time in years under much different circumstances. “Hello, beautiful ladies!” Peck kicked off the call. “It touched my heart so much that I just felt compelled that I had to help you in some way,” she later added.

“Your generosity is still in me because I’ve been paying it forward ever since,” Zugay responded. “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 continued. “Thank you for reminding me to be strong.”

The Power of a Simple Act of Kindness from a Caring Stranger

"kindness is a superpower" written on black brick
Photo by Andrew Thornebrooke on Unsplash

“I just want to encourage everybody in the world to be kind,” Peck explained during that Zoom call. “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 continued. “So, I’m very, very thankful that I have found you girls, that you have found me.”

Those are words to live by, but even Peck couldn’t have realized how true they are. Years ago, a 12-year-old girl was leaving the only life she knew, and it was Peck’s kindness that helped her to not only push forward but learn to pay it forward in life. It was a lesson she held onto physically and emotionally for years.

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In the spirit of Peck’s kindness, try to practice your own version of kindness or generosity this week. Share your time by volunteering or sitting down with someone who could use an ear or a good friend. Smile at strangers and hold the door open. Surprise someone in need with an unexpected gift or a cup of coffee.

These may all seem like small gestures, but as this story reminds us all, sometimes it’s the smallest gestures that mean the most.

More Uplifting News from Goalcast:

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